Sequester hits NASA’s outreach and educational programs

 

Two senior-level NASA officials addressed attendees of the 44th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference via Skype instead of in person on Monday because of the so-called sequester, according to an NBC science blog.

That’s one way the recent government-wide spending cuts have hit the nation’s space-research program, which suspended all educational and public-outreach activities last week.

NASA issued a memo to employees on Friday saying the agency was halting all activities “whose goal is to reach out to external and internal stakeholders and the public concerning NASA, its programs, and activities.”

Evan Harper, 9, climbs into the back of a real space suit at the Capitol in Austin, Texas, on Tuesday March 19, 2013. (Jay Janner/AP)
Evan Harper, 9, climbs into the back of a real space suit at the Capitol in Austin, Texas, on Tuesday March 19, 2013. (Jay Janner/AP)

That includes permanent and traveling exhibits, workshops and many speeches and appearances, the memo said.

Congress last week approved a fiscal 2013 spending plan that provides NASA with about $1.2 billion less than it received last year. The measure awaits President Obama’s signature.

The legislation provides some other federal agencies with greater spending flexibility and, in some cases, increased funding. For instance, it gives the Bureau of Prisons $141 million more for salaries and expenses than the agency had for those same costs during the last fiscal year.

The Justice Department announced on Friday that federal correctional officers would not face furloughs under the sequester this year. Union officials had warned that unpaid leave for prison employees would exacerbate unsafe working conditions within the federal penal system.

The 2013 spending plan would also rearrange funding within the Department of Agriculture to prevent furloughs for meat and poultry inspectors.

The meat lobby teamed up with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to press for that provision, warning Congress and the Obama administration that furloughs for inspectors would have a negative impact on a multibillion-dollar industry and cause meat prices to rise.

We wondered what type of activities might be at stake with NASA halting its educational and outreach activities, so we researched some of its recent events.

Last Thursday, NASA hosted an online Google+ Hangout in Spanish last Thursday as part of its Science4Girls initiative, which coincided with National Women’s History Month. Participants learned about the life and career of two prominent Hispanic women at NASA.

Also on Thursday, NASA invited members of the media to tour the world’s second-largest vacuum chamber, located at Johnson Space Center in Houston. For what it’s worth, the world’s largest vacuum chamber is located at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Sandusky, Ohio, which is also home to the Cedar Point amusement park.

NASA spokesman Bob Jacobs said the online hangout and the media tour would have been exempt from the suspension since they are mission-related and low- to no-cost.

Jacobs said NASA has not yet canceled any activities due to the new policy, but he added that the agency is being “prudent in reviewing public outreach expenditures.”

“You do not lost $1 billion and not feel the impact,” Jacobs said. “People both inside and outside the agency should understand the Sequester is real and projects and programs are going to feel the effects.”

 

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Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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Josh Hicks · March 25, 2013