A request from the office of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) for information about an airplane he suspected was carrying Texas Democrats from the state legislature ultimately led the Federal Aviation Agency to issue a special lookout for the plane in May, U.S. officials said yesterday.

The plane was owned by state representative James E. "Pete" Laney, who with other Texas House Democrats was trying on May 12 to evade an edict by Texas Republicans for his arrest and forced attendance at a House meeting in Austin. DeLay's allies needed a quorum to pass a congressional redistricting plan that favored the election of more Republicans.

The GOP effort failed because the Democrats hid at a motel in Oklahoma.

Calls to the FAA from an unidentified aide to DeLay and from a Texas state police officer prompted 13 FAA officials to join the effort to locate Laney's plane, according to a report released yesterday by Kenneth Mead, the Department of Transportation's inspector general.

Mead concluded that two of the FAA employees knew the effort had a partisan objective. But he said other officials interviewed by his staff said they did not ask the reason for the search or even attempt to verify the requester's identity. He said the FAA had no "protocols to follow" in such cases, and kept no logs of requests for such information.

Mead's report adds substantially to the public record concerning a murky incident, in which Democrats alleged that federal counterterrorism and law enforcement authorities were inappropriately enlisted to help a political effort. The Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General last month confirmed that a federal "air interdiction" center in California had devoted about 40 minutes to the search for Laney's plane, and that one official there had made eight phone calls to the FAA and to regional airports.

Mead urged the FAA to draft clear guidelines, partly to ensure that sensitive information on aircraft locations is not released to "individuals who may falsely identify themselves as law enforcement or other government officials." The FAA, which said it concurred with his report, promised to issue the guidelines next week.

Mead's report pins principal responsibility for the FAA efforts on David Balloff, appointed by President Bush in 2001 as the FAA's assistant administrator for government and industry affairs. Balloff is a former adviser to Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.) and a former Tennessee Republican Party official.

Mead's report said Balloff withheld critical information during several interviews and fostered an "appearance" of trying to hide information about his activities from his FAA superiors. Kirk K. Van Tine, the department's general counsel, promised that he and FAA Administrator Marion Blakey would counsel Balloff "appropriately regarding these issues."

Balloff, who fielded the call from DeLay's aide, phoned the FAA's Operations Center on May 12 and said, "I've got a congressional office on the other line and they want to know" if the plane in question was "in the air right now," according to a transcript released with Mead's report. Mike Gabrini, an official of the operations center, checked the agency's database and told Balloff the plane would be landing in Oklahoma in a few minutes. Balloff relayed the information to DeLay's staff member, and DeLay's office relayed it to Texas's Republican governor and House speaker.

Other FAA officials called the agency's flight control centers in San Angelo, Tex., Fort Worth and McAlester, Okla., to gather information on the plane's past movements. They told at least one skeptical flight controller that "this is a congressional inquiry." The special FAA alert for Laney's plane came after its authorities had also been contacted by the air interdiction center and by Texas police.

A DeLay spokesman told the Associated Press that Mead's report confirms that the majority leader was seeking publicly available information about the plane. But Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), who requested the Mead probe, said: "This strikes me as a clear abuse of the federal government's resources, and an invasion of privacy, and one that shouldn't happen again."

In a related development, a judge ruled the Texas Department of Public Safety lacks the legal authority to track down and arrest rebellious state lawmakers who break a quorum. The ruling issued Thursday finds fault with attempts to round up 51 state House Democrats who fled to Oklahoma.

Texas law "limits the role of DPS to enforcing the laws protecting the public safety and providing for the prevention and detection of crime," visiting state District Judge Charles Campbell in Austin wrote, ruling in a lawsuit filed by one of the lawmakers who fled, Rep. Lon Burnam of Fort Worth.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.)