Former State Official Now Works For Company Awarded
These early days of commercial space
tourism are heady days... bringing together imaginative
entrepreneurs, wealthy would-be space travellers, and optimistic
government agencies anxious to commit big pools of taxpayer dollars
in the hopes they'll reap future economic benefits. Coincidentally,
this also looks like the ingredient list for corruption.
The Orlando Sentinel reports a public-private partnership to
train space tourists in Florida is being marred by accusations of
Specifically, based on documents and e-mail records obtained by
the Sentinel, the paper reports Brice Harris, who worked in
Governor Charlie Crist's tourism and economic-development office,
appears to have been deeply involved in putting together a
half-million-dollar deal to train would-be space tourists at a
Panhandle sports-medicine clinic.
As ANN reported
when the deal was announced in December 2007,
the Andrews Institute -- which caters to a wealthy clientele -- was
deemed an ideal place to not only train, but to recruit space
tourists. Half of the money came through Space Florida, an agency
created to attract private space ventures to Florida's famous
launch facilities. The other $250,000 came from an agency that
directs the governor's economic-development efforts.
Problems which have come to light include Harris's resignation
from his state job to join the institute, in apparent violation of
state ethics laws which prohibit a state employee from joining any
firm holding a state contract he's facilitated.
The half of the money that came from the economic development
fund was taken from a fund earmarked, "for the maintenance and
expansion of military missions in Florida." It was supposed to be
available only to match private-sector contributions.
There's also a lingering protest from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical
University, which had proposed establishing a similar training
program, but was snubbed in favor of the Andrews institute, which
then hired Harris away from the state.
Governor Crist's inspector general
tell the Sentinel he's launched a probe in response to the paper's
report. E-mails obtained by the paper suggest the sensitive nature
of the brewing scandal had already been discussed at high levels,
including exchanges with Lieutenant Governor Jeff Kottkamp (right),
who oversees Space Florida.
For the moment, "Project Odyssey," as the training camp program
was named, is going forward. Dale Brill, the director of the
economic development agency that chipped in a quarter-million
dollars from the military missions fund, has tried to minimize
Harris's role in putting the deal together before he left his state
The expenditure of the military mission money is being justified
by a claim that the program hopes to make some use facilities at
Pensacola Naval Air Station, and the Andrews Institute claims it is
putting up some matching money. Harris's position at the institute
has been titled, "director of defense and aerospace programs,"
although it's not clear there's any actual defense connection aside
from the funds received from the military earmark.
There will no doubt be more to report in coming weeks... as the
governor's inspector general toils away under a very bright