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back to article Senator probes NASA airfield deal for Google's jets

A US senator has asked NASA (PDF) to cough up five years of data about Larry Page and Sergey Brin's personal jets – in the latest flare-up in the rumbling controversy over whether NASA is cutting Google bosses a soft deal by storing their private airplanes in a government-funded research airport. Google rents 42 acres of land …

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FAIL

What a rubbish search engine

Putting Google, Moffett and "cheap fuel" into a well known search engine returns surprisingly (or perhaps not) little about their 'arrangements', ie., nothing.

'If they've nothing to hide......'

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g e
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Facepalm

Or maybe

The taxpayer is paying $5.2M less for NASA than they otherwise would be.

Whiners are so half-empty.

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Unhappy

Re: Or maybe

That probably doubles NASA's budget.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Or maybe

But those $5.2 million were stolen from the taxpayers in tax dodge scams anyway.

I guess in g e's world Google's corruption doesn't stink.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Or maybe

Alternatively

Google is paying NASA (insert number) million dollars less than it ought to have assuming normal commerical rates on the transaction.

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Re: Or maybe

Not from the US tax payers. An Google Europe money is kept in the Bermuda.

An Google has not stolen any money, it just uses the tax laws our politicians write to its advantage. If you want better tax laws vote in better politicians, ones that are willing and able to close loops holes.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Or maybe

They won't do that as most of them are using the very same dodges to avoid paying tax

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WTF?

Can he do that?

Can a US senator simply demand personal information like that on a whim? What if I happened to be on one of those Oompa loompa flights? How is that the senators business, and why on earth would a senator from Iowa want to know?

How much taxpayer money will NASA need to spend to satisfy this whim and is its NASA's job in the first place?

How much taxpayer money has been spent on satisfying this and other senators whims in the past?

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Re: Can he do that?

Yep! Being that it is a government owned facility...he can ask whatever he wants. Whether or not he actually gets an answer is another question. Just ask the FCC about that.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Can he do that?

He's asking for commercial data. Not sure how they handle the private stuff, but they are on a government (taxpayer) funded facility - and besides, it's (a) the US government and (b) Google. Both are not exactly well known for their knowledge and following of privacy laws so I don't think that will even feature - unless their lawyers want to inject a degree of comedy into the proceedings..

I think the issue itself is indeed worth following up - Google dodges US tay paying like any other company (it's big enough to lobby and sponsor campaigns) so if they get a bargain here you could say the tax payer has been doubly hit. Not that I expect results - I suspect the senator is simply after a campaign donation..

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@Paul Smith: Re: Can he do that? A: Congressional Oversight

"Can a US senator simply demand personal information like that on a whim? What if I happened to be on one of those Oompa loompa flights? How is that the senators business, and why on earth would a senator from Iowa want to know?"

This is called "congressional oversight". It's a really big part of what Congress does for a living. Congress is expressly tasked with exercising congressional oversight over all parts of government. That all parts of government are accountable to Congress is almost the only thing that makes those parts of the government accountable for their actions at all.

(If you really have that much trouble figuring out why the passenger manifests etc are not the perfectly legitimate object of interest of government as personified in this instance by Sen. Grassley, as are the purposes for which Google is putting Moffet Field to use, then you probably shouldn't bother you little head about the matter.)

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1. Google rents the space and the landing rights

2. Google manages the airport

What's the betting that 1=2?

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Emj

Really, who cares? Ok, apart from the cheaper fuel allegations, then Google pays NASA money so what's the problem? Typicall politician with a bee in his hat. Probably some dodgy photo appears in Google of him that Google wouldn't remove.

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I think the idea is

That if they didn't have NASA's space, they'd have to rent space at a regular airport, and would be paying more into the civil coffers. So basically, is it a sort of variant of tax evasion.

I'm not saying it is- just a guess as to what the fuss is about.

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WTF?

Witch hunt

Much like the FTC's attempts to force disclosure of PageRank you can bet this is sponsored by Google's competitor.

What this actually does is discourage companies from leasing from the government. These were unused facilities Google is paying the upkeep on. If not for this the site may have had to be razed at great cost.

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Re: Witch hunt

These were unused facilities Google is paying the upkeep on. If not for this the site may have had to be razed at great cost.

If that's true I would guess Google has nothing to hide and will be happy to answer a totally legit query. I think the enquiry makes sense - clarity is preferable over assumptions so if Google can document that all is well there is no problem. I cannot see the detrimental effect here at all.

I can see especially evading fuel duties as an interesting question - there is no reason why accompany that is already employing every possible trick in the book to avoid tax should get an easy ride. It's not like they would fold overnight if they had to pay their dues..

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Complete copy of the letter.

A complete copy of the letter from Grassley to Bolden is here:

http://musictechpolicy.wordpress.com/2012/05/15/life-in-the-two-gulfstream-family-senator-grassley-nails-nasa-administrator-for-googles-misuse-of-moffett-field/

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Thumb Down

Hasn't he got anything else to do?

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Probably not, their only so many fund-raisers you can go to. An there are only so many bills he can vote no, just to make Obama look bad.

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Hanger One

Google are also paying to restore the historic Hanger One at Moffett for around $33M.

What a muppet!

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Re: Hanger One

Charitable goodwill or subtle bribe or something worse

Any meglomaniac with his eyes on world domination needs a base from which to launch their (wi-fi slurping) fleet of airships. Cue fight between J Bond esq. and Henchman on top of the silvery envelope of a colossal zeppelin.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Hanger One

Really? Do you have the signed contract on that as I see news reports about their offer to so so in return for a "long term lease" but they're all dated 2011.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Hanger One

Any meglomaniac with his eyes on world domination needs a base from which to launch their (wi-fi slurping) fleet of airships

Actually, I must credit Google there with the most fantastic bit of irony out there. Every "Android is good and open and doesn't do evil" fanboi is potentially enlisted in Streetview data slurping v2 if point 47 of their response to the Canadian Data Commissioner is anything to go by (I have seen similar statements in other countries, so I consider this viable).

Because, yes, megalomaniacs and ethics never make good bedfellows.

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What else is NASA going to use the airport for, space shuttles?

The real story here is how the US Space program consists of a landing strip for Google. Hopefully Google will pull an Amazon and start making spacecraft.

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Headmaster

Google HQ.

Google HQ next to Moffat Field is not in San Francisco. It's in Mountain View. What's more, no-one should call San Francisco 'San Fran'. That's almost as bad as calling it 'Frisco'. Bay Area residents call it 'The City', as in "I'm going up to the City tonight." Everyone else should call it San Francisco. So there.

/pedant

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Re: Google HQ.

I appreciate it was a pedantic point of order but... San Francisco and probably the 20 miles surrounding it can safely be referred to as "San Fran" by people who do not live there nor give a shit. I lived for many years in Fort Worth Texas. Now that I don't I tell people I used to live in Dallas for simplicity.

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Re: Google HQ.

Oakland is within 20 miles of San Francisco but I don't think they would want to be called San Francisco. Mountain View is about 35 miles from San Francisco. They must like their airport as it is very close to their head quarters.

From what I read, Larry Ellison flies from the San Jose airport but they have curfews, and perhaps the Google people get to fly any time of day out of Moffet Field, I don't know.

I assume what is unfair is that they get to use the airport while others don't.

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Anonymous Coward

Does anybody else see the irony....

Does anybody else see the irony of CongressCritters, who get all sorts of taxpayer funded free travel, much of which is of questionable needfulness, criticizing Google for the crime of paying (but paying ENOUGH, by the CongressCritter's reckoning) for air travel?

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Mushroom

Sod those mentally decaying jerks from the festering hill.

Maybe they could throw in a demand to get full listing of rendition flights. No? How about to have Dick Cheney hand over all the document that he disappeared ... Oh, okay then.

In related news, it is heard that the US is paying Pakistan USD 1 million a day just to let warcrap into Afghanistan unmolested.

And this is is still chump change.

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WTF?

Sorry, you've lost me here. What does that have to do with a basic enquiry into the actual deal?

If there's nothing to see, cool, a simple answer with details gets it out of the way. If there IS anything dodgy I expect every dodgy in the lawyer's books, including claims and astro turfing that it's obviously a competition inspired conspiracy. Well done for making a start on that, but you're a bit too early. Give it a week or so, then come back.

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Turf Battle

Typical govt turf battle. Taking advantage of taxpayers is HIS job.

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Facepalm

@Symon

I live in a town in a county called Gloucestershire, and to anyone I spoke to while holidaying in San Fransico, no it is not near London. I think you need to realise that knowledge of local geography and appropriate nicknames for places is left to the locals, to the rest of the world as long as people understand enought for the article to make sence that is acceptable. Its not like anyone is going to mistake the coit tower for a NASA launch pad.

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FAIL

And yet they wonder...

Why big companies send their facilities offshore. He's just pandering to the right-wing base in Iowa, but it will likely come to nothing.

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WTF?

What's better, Google paying money to NASA directly for use of (presumably empty) hangars, or google paying for access in another private airfield somewhere else? Would the government receive more money in total if Google were somewhere else? I'm quite doubtful.

Google have enough money to build their own private airfield if they want, why do something likely to make them leave? If the point was ensuring they paid a fair amount I would fully back up anyone who questioned it (not because I believe it's inherently nefarious, but because it's always good to check).

Is this just contrariness for contrariness' sake?

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At the moment it *is* just a question, and I think it's good they should check. Google has every chance to help those cheap fuel rumours out of the world, and if they cannot they ought to cough up. They too should have nothing to hide.

If it's such a good deal for NASA it can be trumpeted as a model for others. If not, Google should pay its dues and fess up that the basis on which they got that concession were fraudulent (which seems to be the case). I don't see the problem here, I think it's good someone checks this out.

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sore CEOs

Google essentially thumbed their noses at a long line of individuals and companies who have to actually sit in a limo and travel alongside the masses to get to their private planes. The sweetheart deal was granted for the promise that Google mounted atmospheric sensors on their fleets and conduct survey operations on each flight. So in a way, sure let's see the data...and perhaps let's look for better or more tenants.

For me though, the Senator's buffoonery as a pseudo-cat's paw (in that he knows exactly who he works for) is just a stage performance on behalf of a rogue's gallery of sore losers. Oracle is right next door for example, and naturally Larry Ellison never minds having his ego get an elbow in the nose. Look for campaign contributions and fund raising banquets, and you will find a long line of private plane owners stuffing money in the pockets and twisting the arm of the good Senator.

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Smuggling

Being a government base I wonder what kind of oversight and airplane inspections take place like would occur at a commercial airport when planes have been taking overseas trips. Who knows what kinds of items they could be smuggling in and out of the country.

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Anonymous Coward

They got one hell of a sweetheart deal

Everyone in the valley knows it, I'm just surprised it took a politician so long to notice.........

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Pint

Don't Google rent ...

... some extraordinary rendition jails from the CIA that they could perhaps whisk this petulant senator off to?

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Anonymous Coward

How much Google pays NASA?

"Iowa senator Chuck Grassley wants to know how much Google pays for the space, and what it uses the planes for"

Couldn't he have got his information the same place you did?

"Google rents the space and the landing rights for over $3.7m a year for the land and $1.5m for the airplane landing rights, according to a 2008 San Fran Chronicle article".

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Re: How much Google pays NASA?

I don't think it's just the value to the taxpayer, it's also the reasons why they were given permission to do this. If Google has knowingly made false statements as to the purpose of their use they ought to hang like everyone else for deception. If they did not, they have nothing to lose by providing clarity.

"Nothing to hide" - heard of it?

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The plot thickens..

There are actually two separate letters in progress.

The other letter is asking questions about security - when the phrase "foreign nationals" shows up in any other context than extra-ordinary rendition it seems Americans get nervous..

More here and here - the latter also provides a neat calculation of just how much Google saves per flight with the fuel deal (or deprives the tax payer - take any interpretation you want).

What really got people's back up is the usual: others were denied such a deal, so fi Google has been creative this could get entertaining, and will require popcorn to follow.

BTW, it's ironic that I had to work hard to get the above links out of Google..

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