TALLAHASSEE—Space Florida President Steve Kohler has sent a memo to state legislators blasting news coverage of a report that faulted his agency for not spelling out how it is spending millions in taxpayer money to build a commercial spaceport.
The Legislature's Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability reported last week that Space Florida had finished only about one-quarter of the economic-development tasks lawmakers had set out in creating the agency in 2006.
"Its efforts to promote Florida's space industry are hindered by its failure to develop a comprehensive master plan," the report said.
In typical low-key auditor style, it said, "In the absence of a spaceport master plan, it is difficult for the Legislature to assess how Space Florida's efforts to improve various launch facilities will be expected to contribute to its overall mission of retaining and expanding Florida's space industry."
In his two-page response, Kohler wrote that the report "resulted in headlines and stories that are inaccurate and lack critical facts . . ."
Kohler cited a phrase in the report that said the agency "has met most of its statutory responsibilities," although it actually found the agency had completed only two of 13 specific mandates.
Two other mandates -- a business plan for aerospace industry growth, and a plan to offer financial aid to such companies -- were done "but in need of revision," because they lack "key components such as specific objectives for many goals and projects," the report said.
Kohler said the agency's "responsible, strategic, and measured approach" to planning the spaceport "has saved state-appropriated funds from being wasted." The agency has said it will finish a master plan this year.
The OPPAGA report came out a week after Gov. Charlie Crist's office ordered an inquiry into one of Space Florida's hallmark deals, a space-tourist medical program called "Project Odyssey." Space Florida worked closely with Crist's chief space and defense economic-development coordinator, Brice Harris, to create and fund the $500,000 program.
Harris then resigned from Crist's office to go to work overseeing the program at the orthopedic and sports-medicine center that landed it, Panhandle-based Andrews Institute. The move is a possible violation of ethics laws.
The bad press comes as Space Florida is trying to lay the groundwork for an even bigger taxpayer investment in its proposed commercial spaceport -- dollars that would be tough to land in the current budget climate even without the OPPAGA report.
Now, Rep. Dean Cannon, R- Winter Park, who helped secure $14.5 million for the launch complex in this year's budget, said he doesn't want to give the agency more money until there are structural "management changes."
Kohler will get a chance to make his case for the current management in person.
Sen. Mike Haridopolos, R-Indialantic, plans to call Kohler later this month to testify alongside the legislative analysts about their report.
"We've appropriated a lot of state dollars to them in the last two tough budget years," Haridopolos said Wednesday. "I think we'll have a full hearing to make sure that before we appropriate a single dollar [more], these concerns are addressed. And if they're not, they won't get a dollar."
Aaron Deslatte can be reached at email@example.com or 850-222-5564.