in Houston, Texas
AG denies Houston Airport System’s request to keep secret an embarrassing federal review
Tuesday, Sep 18, 2012, 11:20AM CST
By Steve Miller
plane

Under protest, the Houston Airport System has released a federal review questioning the agency’s flimsy fiscal arrangements with the city of Houston, including payments for software that was never used.

A local watchdog requested a copy of the 12-page letter from the Federal Aviation Administration to the Houston Airport System. He first went to the FAA, which denied his request because the review had no signature. He then turned to HAS, which appealed to the state Attorney General, claiming exemption under section 552.116 of the Texas Government Code, which pertains to audit working papers of a state agency by a state agency.

In a letter ruling issued Aug. 14, the AG denied HAS’ request to withhold the review. The exemption the airport system cited did not apply to the requested records.

The audit at issue is being conducted by the FAA, a federal agency, not the state auditor or the auditor of a state agency, an institution of higher education, a county, a municipality, a school district, a hospital district, or a joint board. Accordingly, section 552.116 of the Government Code is not applicable, and the system may not withhold the submitted information on that basis. As you claim no other exceptions, the submitted information must be released.

The sternly worded letter notes that a $20 million contract between HAS and the Houston Police Department, entered into without any memo of understanding, opens the door to a number of accountability problems.

Also noted by the FAA is a $345,000 expenditure by HAS for three years’ use of the city’s geographic information system, which no one at the airport system uses because it is “inferior to the one already in use at HAS.” Same for the $100,000 annual cost of the city’s phone system - but that estimate is tenuous because “the city has not revealed the exact cost to the airport.”

And finally, the FAA voiced concern over the marketing expenditures of HAS with three local economic development agencies, with no invoicing. It asked for some help in order to understand the arrangements and for a more complete accounting of expenditures.

A Houston Airport System spokeswoman declined to comment on the report. Texas Watchdog has requested the HAS’s official response.

***
Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.

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Photo of plane by flickr user MichaelB in Houston, used via a Creative Commons license.

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