The future of NASA/Ames and Moffett is getting cloudier:
On August 9 the NASA Inspector General issued a report on NASA’s facilities property leasing practices. NASA owns over 100,000 acres of land with 5000 buildings totaling over 44 million square feet needing about $2.5 billion in deferred maintenance. In 2010 the NASA Authorization Act called for a reduction in property to fit current and future needs and budgets. This may be why the head of NASA declared Moffett Field and Hangar 1 surplus last April. Strong protests by local congress members caused him to back off declaring Moffett Field surplus while asking GSA to review future site uses.
The report states leasing underutilized property has the benefits of bringing in payments while retaining facilities that may be needed later. However facility leasing procedures are heavily criticized. Currently the ten NASA facilities have 431 leasing agreements. These can be easements, concessionaires, enhanced use where NASA keeps the income, and reimbursable or non-reimbursable leases.
Complaints about current leasing practices are
1) Guidance for identifying leasable property is unclear and ineffective;
2) There is no comprehensive inventory of leasable property
3) Marketing properties for lease is inadequate
4) Leasing controls often fail to ensure best value to NASA and partners
5) In-kind leasing benefits are not realized consistently
Of the 431 leases AMES has 103, 24%; 27 are easements, 52 enhanced use (EUL), 20 reimbursable and 4 non-reimbursable. AMES was one of five facilities audited in detail.
There are few incentives to declare property unnecessary. The example given is Hangar1 and the congressional and community objections. Since NASA declared Hangar 1 surplus and wanted to transfer it to GSA, renting it to H211 in exchange for re-skinning is inconsistent with Federal law since no future NASA use is identified. Policy is that only real property with current or future mission use should be leased. Otherwise it should be disposed of. The AMES director thus must justify why Hangar 1 should be retained and leased.
EULs at Ames fail to justify leasing suitability. Questionable leases include Planetary Ventures (Google) lease of 42 acres for business and R&D facilities for which NASA receives cash and in-kind benefits, and University Associates lease of 77 acres for business, education, housing and R&D; no improvements have begun. These leases were signed in 2008, before the 2010 Act was passed. Neither area has any identified mission uses so the leases are questionable. The EUL with Airship Ventures generates $98,000/year to store the airship in a hangar. The EUL with H221for 69,000 sq. ft. generates $1.1 million/year. They are acceptable.
The report found NASA does a poor job of marketing properties to Federal and non-federal organizations. Ames was criticized for not adequately advertising and circulating availability of space for lease. Agreements with Planetary Ventures, University Associates, and H221 are cited as inadequately transparent, possibly not assuring maximum return to the government. H221 negotiated the hangar lease because they knew it was available. No general bid solicitation was done by Ames.
Renovation of buildings as partial payment was criticized as not clearly mission-related. Two sites at Ames are cited, Bloom Energy renovating a building it occupies, and H221 removing a skywalk in the hangar it rents. These renovations might be beneficial if the properties are returned to NASA as useful.
These policies make it difficult for NASA to justify accepting the offer of H221 to re-skin Hangar 1 in return for a long-term lease of most of the Hangar. The Inspector General apparently takes the position that since Hangar 1 is surplus, there is no benefit to NASA from restoration. Since the project was not put out to bid the H221 offer is non-compliant with recommended practice. These policies also make it difficult for Ames to retain and lease much of Moffett unless future uses are identified.