TTP Report Details Google’s Exclusive Access to Government Airfield Within Minutes of Company Headquarters
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 9, 2020
Contact: Michael Clauw, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202.780.5750
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA), a nonprofit watchdog group that runs the Tech Transparency Project (TTP), released a report detailing the history behind Google’s unprecedented access to Moffett Field, a NASA airfield conveniently located near the company’s Mountain View headquarters. The sweetheart deal between a Google-affiliated company, H211, and the government dates back to 2007, when Google promised to pay a lease, and help NASA collect atmospheric data in exchange for landing rights at the field. However, flight data reviewed by TTP shows far more flight activity from private planes used by Google executives than from the single fighter jet used to by Google to satisfy the minimum requirements laid out in the scientific portion of the lease agreement. Inexplicably, Google’s data-collecting fighter jet has been out of action since a little-noticed crash in 2018, yet the tech giant’s privileged access to the airfield remains.
Campaign for Accountability Executive Director Michelle Kuppersmith said, “The deal between Google and NASA is a disproportionately one-sided arrangement that gives preferential treatment to a private company with little public benefit in return. Since obtaining access to Moffett Field in 2007, Google executives have reaped the benefits of this preferential treatment while failing to follow through on the promises that would benefit the public. NASA should put an end to this Google give away.”
Moffett Airfield is located less than four miles from the Googleplex in Mountain View, California, and has long been used by the federal government for research and naval operations. “There’s so many people chomping at the bit to land at NASA,” the mayor of Mountain View said the first time a Boeing 767 owned by Page and Brin was spotted on the runway at Moffett Field in 2007. Yet, Google appears to remain the only major private entity authorized to take off and land at Moffett. A 2012 audit concluded that NASA failed to nationally advertise the hangar space eventually acquired by Google, calling into question whether any company other than Google had a chance to bid.
Despite signing the deal in 2007, Google did not begin providing any of the scientific data called for by the deal until 2011. Originally, the company planned to retrofit a portion of its existing fleet of Boeing and Gulfstream planes with the scientific equipment required to collect the atmospheric data requested by NASA. They soon discovered that this would be too cumbersome a process, so they instead bought a new plane more suited to the task – a former German Air Force Alpha Jet. Yet, even after data collection finally began, flights have been very infrequent. An agency report issued in 2014 said the jet averaged between three and four missions a month. In contrast, Google’s passenger planes departed from Moffett Field at least 181 times between August 2012 and July 2013, a rate that is more than triple the number of Alpha Jet flights during that period.
Google-affiliates have benefitted from discounted fuel costs for their private fleet, buying fuel at a decreased rate only meant for planes conducting government business. A report issued by NASA’s inspector general in 2013 noted that the company managing Google’s fleet had mistakenly paid between $3.3 million and $5.3 million below market rate for fuel at Moffett Field between September 2007 and August 2013, due to a “misunderstanding between Ames” and the fuel provider. It is unclear whether that amount has been returned to the government.
Google is also failing to fulfill a new promise outlined in a lease renewal agreement signed in 2014. The new deal, signed by another Google-affiliate company, Planetary Ventures, granted access to three large hangars. The oldest of which, known as Hangar One, was found to contain dangerous levels of toxic chemicals, and had its side paneling stripped in 2011. The lease said the company would “Re-side Hangar One within two years of receiving necessary permits and approvals.” The company has yet to start that process, and it does not expect to begin residing the hangar until the site undergoes a cleanup process that could take until 2023.
Ms. Kuppersmith continued, “Google continues to get a sweetheart deal that allows its executives to depart from its headquarters at a moment’s notice all without having to abide by the scientific commitments of its lease. Most of Silicon Valley would love to have this arrangement. Why is Google so special?”
Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.