Known for his aggressive efforts to combat government waste, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has set his sights on Google, questioning the use of a federal air base in California to park aircraft owned by Google executives.
In a letter Monday to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, Grassley questioned whether the Google executives were paying a fair-market rate to park their aircraft at the Moffett Federal Airfield in Santa Clara County.
The airfield, located not far from Google's Mountain View, Calif., headquarters, is operated by NASA's Ames Research Center. Grassley noted that NASA signed a 40-year lease in 2008 for the aircraft to use the airbase for $3.7 million a year.
"Whistleblowers have questioned the benefit to the U.S. government from the Google fleet being housed at Moffett Airfield," wrote Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Grassley called on Bolden to provide information on the lease arrangement including whether the agency is charging fair-market rates for the use of the base and why NASA entered into the lease.
Google said it does not own the aircraft, which are instead owned by Google executives.
In a written response to Grassley, Ken Ambrose, vice president of H211, the company that negotiated the lease agreement with NASA, noted that the Google executives are paying above-market rates for the space they lease at the airfield. In addition, as part of the agreement, they also are required to conduct scientific flights for NASA and have conducted more than 150 such missions so far, he said.
"Chairman Darrell Issa of the House Oversight Committee has visited and been briefed on our operation and I encourage you to speak with him," Ambrose added.
Grassley, however, said Wednesday that he still has concerns about the lease arrangement and requested more details from Ambrose.
Grassley has been a dogged investigator of government waste, chastising the Justice Department last fall for $16 muffins at its conferences (it turns out the charge was actually for a full continental breakfast). In the 1980s, Grassley highlighted waste at the Pentagon when a probe he helped lead uncovered $400 hammers and $600 toilet seats.