NASA to Draft New Rules for Media Office

By Guy Gugliotta
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 17, 2006

NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin said yesterday he has convened a team of scientists and public information officials to draft new guidelines to ensure that news of agency research or events will not be tailored or curtailed to reflect political or ideological bias.

In his clearest statement yet regarding accusations that NASA public relations officials had manipulated news releases or reports involving climate change and cosmology, Griffin told reporters that "it is not appropriate for scientists to be required to adjust, spin or alter their scientific work to fit any particular political agenda."

He acknowledged, however, that NASA's guidelines on releasing information to the public are "not as clear as they need to be," and that a cross-agency team of scientists and career and political public affairs personnel would reevaluate the policy and make changes "in the next few weeks."

Griffin spoke to reporters after appearing before the House Science Committee to present NASA's proposed $16.8 billion budget and defend reductions in projected spending for space science and cuts in aeronautics programs in order to free up funds for the space shuttle, the international space station and development of a new spacecraft.

Griffin said the budget was as good as it could be, given available resources, and noted that the shift in human spaceflight from the shuttle and space station to President Bush's plan for space exploration to the moon and Mars was "a difficult juggling act."

In crafting a budget, he said, "one very plain fact is that we cannot afford to do everything that our constituencies would like us to do."

The Bush budget proposal released earlier this month allots $5.33 billion to space and Earth science, a 1.5 percent increase from last year but a reduction in real terms after adjusting for inflation. Also, NASA projected that science programs will get $3.1 billion less between now and 2010 than they would have gotten based on last year's estimates. Aeronautics drops from $884 million this year to $724.4 million next year.

Griffin noted that science has grown from 24 percent of the NASA budget in 1992 to 32 percent today. "We are simply moderating that rate of growth" for the "next several years" to retire the shuttle by 2010 and put the new spacecraft into service, he said.

"This budget is bad for space science, worse for Earth science, perhaps worse still for aeronautics," Science Committee Chairman Sherwood L. Boehlert (R-N.Y.) said, reflecting the views of many colleagues. "I am extremely uneasy about this budget, and I am in a quandary at this point about what to do about it."

Although Boehlert and other House members mentioned NASA's public information difficulties in opening statements, they asked Griffin no questions about the accusations that arose in January when scientist James E. Hansen charged that the agency's press office was restricting his efforts to publicly discuss climate change.

In response to Hansen's assertions, Griffin earlier this month e-mailed employees vowing to respect scientific openness. On Feb. 10, NASA spokesman George C. Deutsch, a political appointee, resigned after allegations he had edited a scientist's press release on cosmology to conform to administration views.

Griffin told reporters after yesterday's hearing that he has made it a policy that "technical people within NASA are not only allowed to speak their minds . . . we beg them to speak their minds."

He cautioned, however, that the review of public information guidelines is not only about ensuring openness, but also seeks to establish "crisp" criteria for deciding when research is newsworthy.

The review is, in part, about "adult supervision over which paper merits a news release," Griffin said. "And this is management 101, not politics."

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