There are stories currently finding its way around the Internet about NASA’s initial response to budgetary constraints due to sequestration. According to SpaceRef.com, an internal memo is being sent around at NASA Public Affairs stating the following:
Subject: Guidance for Education and Public Outreach Activities Under Sequestration
As you know, we have taken the first steps in addressing the mandatory spending cuts called for in the Budget Control Act of 2011. The law mandates a series of indiscriminate and significant across-the-board spending reductions totaling $1.2 trillion over 10 years.
As a result, we are forced to implement a number of new cost-saving measures, policies, and reviews in order to minimize impacts to the mission-critical activities of the Agency. We have already provided new guidance regarding conferences, travel, and training that reflect the new fiscal reality in which we find ourselves. Some have asked for more specific guidance at it relates to public outreach and engagement activities. That guidance is provided below.
Effective immediately, all education and public outreach activities should be suspended, pending further review. In terms of scope, this includes all public engagement and outreach events, programs, activities, and products developed and implemented by Headquarters, Mission Directorates, and Centers across the Agency, including all education and public outreach efforts conducted by programs and projects.
The scope comprises activities intended to communicate, connect with, and engage a wide and diverse set of audiences to raise awareness and involvement in NASA, its goals, missions and programs, and to develop an appreciation for, exposure to, and involvement in STEM. Audiences include employees, partners, educators, students, and members of the general public. The scope encompasses, but is not limited to:
- Programs, events, and workshops.
- Permanent and traveling exhibits, signage, and other materials.
- Speeches, presentations, and appearances, with the exception of technical presentations by researchers at scientific and technical symposia.
- Video and multimedia products in development (and renewal of existing products).
- Web and social media sites in development (excludes operational sites).
- External and internal publications, with the exception of Scientific and Technical Information as defined by NPD 2200.1B.
- Any other activity whose goal is to reach out to external and internal stakeholders and the public concerning NASA, its programs, and activities.
Additional information regarding the waiver and review process will be issued by the Associate Administrators for Communications and Education. The Agency has already made tough choices about conferences and travel. For those activities planned to be held between the date of this memorandum through April 30, 2013, that your organization deems to be Agency mission-critical, the Headquarters Offices of Communications and Education will conduct a waiver process to promptly evaluate those specific efforts.
For future activities, the Offices of Communications and Education have established a process to assess and determine, in light of the current budget situation, what education and public outreach activities should be determined Agency mission critical and thereby be continued or implemented. We are requesting Mission Directorates and Headquarters organizations submit a summary of activities, including those planned by their respective programs and projects. We are also requesting that Centers submit a summary of Center-sponsored or supported activities. For public outreach activities, these should be submitted to David Weaver, Associate Administrator for Communications, no later than April 15, 2013. For education activities, these should be submitted to Leland Melvin, Associate Administrator for Education, also no later than April 15, 2013. Required summary and waiver documentation is being provided for distribution to Mission Directorates, Centers, programs, and projects through the Communications and Education Coordinating Councils. The Headquarters Office of Communications, working in conjunction with the Office of Education, will review the requested data and will make a timely and appropriate determination regarding what activities will go forward as planned.
This guidance is to be applied to all NASA employees, civil servants, and contractors (working through their contract officers). Leadership in our Centers, Mission Directorates, as well as individual program and project managers are responsible for ensuring that all public engagement activities, including the education and public outreach efforts conducted by programs and projects, are suspended and submitted to the review process. This guidance applies to existing and future efforts at least through the end of FY2013.
As our budgetary situation evolves over the coming months, NASA senior managers will continue to review this guidance and adjust, as appropriate. We appreciate your cooperation during this challenging fiscal period. Any questions on this guidance should be directed to David Weaver, Associate Administrator for Communications, Leland Melvin, Associate Administrator for Education. Dr. Elizabeth Robinson, Chief Financial Officer, or David Radzanowski, Chief of Staff.
Needless to say, this is quite an extraordinary document, having the potential of causing a lot of problems not only for the exemplary people performing Education & Public Outreach with NASA, but also long lasting effects on the future of our country. There is a large population who are inspired not only by NASA missions and science being performed, but by the people who bring that science to them, relating the wonders of the Universe to the public.
A perfect example of this is with the Mars Science Laboratory. Though it’s an absolutely amazing piece of equipment that’s able to help us better understand our planetary neighbor, it become such a huge public success because of the outreach being done. “Seven Minutes of Terror” was absolutely genius in its ability to connect the public to the important reality that this is a project that hundreds or thousands of people have devoted years of their life to creating, developing and building a robot that will hopefully be able to tell us more about a planet than we’ve ever had the ability to do, besides here at home. Adam Steltzner, the EDL (Entry, Decent, Landing) Lead Engineer for Curiosity brought a human connection to the very real fear that something could go wrong with getting MSL to the surface of Mars. The public fell in love with Curiosity, not merely on the amazing things it has the ability to accomplish, but because they’re able to realize that there are real people behind these missions. The hopes and dreams of hundreds of people are attached to science being done by America’s space program, and are also met with fear of malfunctions, unknowns and failures– Something we can all relate to.
Assuming that the original articles are true and can be corroborated by other sources, this is quite a hard blow to NASA and to the public at large. It could have cascading effects on not only the people who are currently contracted to perform outreach with NASA, but also to future generations who would not be able to become inspired by the engagement that occurs when they’re able to interact with the NASA Experience. I’m afraid that this could kill dreams that were never able to be realized, if this memo is indeed genuine. Will keep you abreast of any new information regarding its validity and responses from the world.
Secondary Article by Jason Major: UniverseToday.com
Update: Another report from SpaceRef.com has come out quoting David S. Weaver, Associate Administrator of Communications at NASA:
I am providing additional information and instructions regarding the review of public outreach activities under sequestration as outlined in the memorandum from the NASA Chief Financial Officer and Chief of Staff dated March 22, 2013.
First, I am exempting the following activities from immediate suspension:
* Mission announcement media events and products
* Breaking news activities
* Responses to media inquiries
Also, according to AmericaSpace.com, NASA Social events are still slated to continue to be planned and held in the future.
This is definitely a bit of good news added to the original, dire one. I’ll keep you up to date as things unfold.