1 August 2004: Kerry Visit Could Put NASA in the Hot Seat, Washington Post
The visitors center is managed by a vendor, Delaware North Cos., and often rents out rooms to conventions and corporate groups. When Democrats called to see if they could book Kerry, the appearance was deemed "a permissible event" by the center's staff members and their counterparts at NASA, said Dan LeBlanc, chief operating officer for the visitor complex. LeBlanc said Kerry was accompanied by Florida's two senators, Bill Nelson and Bob Graham, as well as former senator John Glenn, the legendary astronaut. All are Democrats. "It was not a campaign event but a town hall meeting," LeBlanc said. "It was not in a federal workplace but in a public facility on federal property."
Editor's note: Oh c'mon, Dan. This was a campaign event, plain and simple - by a presidential candidate on his way to a national convention. Besides, why would a senator from Massachusetts come to Florida for a 'town hall meeting'? Indeed the attendees were hand-picked by the Kerry campaign. If this was truly a 'town hall meeting' then any resident from Brevard County would have been allowed to attend.
As for whether the KSC visitor's center is the proper place for a political rally, stop and think for a moment. NASA has turned the management and upkeep of the facility over to a private contractor and allows them to rent it out for a wide variety of uses - just like a hotel or a convention facility. [see this page]. It is outside the fence as well. NASA made a conscious decision to distance itself from its operations. In October 2002 Sean O'Keefe had planned to attend a political event at a local hotel and convention facility, the Cocoa Beach Hilton, for (then) congressional candidate Tom Feeney (airline problems forced him to cancel). If NASA is going to allow the visitor's center to be run like a hotel or a convention center then they should not be surprised when someone wants to hold an overtly political event there - nor should they try and spin it into something other than a political event after the fact.
"If the Office of Special Counsel, headed by Scott J. Bloch, determines that the Kerry appearance represented a misuse of federal property, it can recommend that disciplinary action be taken against NASA employees who coordinated or approved the activities. The possible sanctions include dismissal from government employment."
Editor's note: It is one thing to quibble about the use of the visitors center. It is another to refuse a request from a member of Congress to visit a federal facility i.e. the OPF. This is just great. Now the folks at NASA KSC are going to get in trouble because they tried to accommodate Sen. Bill Nelson's request. It was Bill Nelson who pushed NASA KSC on the spur of the moment to allow three sitting U.S. senators and a former senator to visit a shuttle in the OPF. Imagine the tantrum Nelson would have thrown if NASA had said "no".
The way the Kerry folks got upset about the pictures coming out, I get the impression that they had no plans to make use of the shuttle tour in a political fashion. Indeed, given that this was all arranged at the last minute, I seriously doubt that they did - especially given the bland nature of Kerry's comments about space at the 'town hall meeting'.
I think Bill Nelson needs to come clean (he has been rather silent about all of this) as to how he approached NASA - and in what capacity he made his request i.e. "political" or "official".
1 August 2004: Reader comment regarding the impact of the Kerry photo op in OPF 3
"Kerry, Glenn, Nelson, and company were not scheduled to visit OPF 3 on Monday. The scheduled (invitation only) town hall meeting at the Delaware North operated KSC Visitor's Center was expanded on an apparent whim. No NASA or USA scheduler was prepared for this impromptu visit to the Orbiter Processing Facility that was working three shifts, seven days per week to prepare Discovery to meet the RTF launch date. This schedule is under threat as is - hence, the 24/7 operations."
"End result: A four hour interruption in work on OV-103, and the cancellation of at least one test planning meeting that I know of. (People had flown in from Houston and California to support this EMI test planning session but were unceremoniously evicted from OPF 3 and lost a day's productivity.) Whatever work was ongoing on OV-103 was halted, often in mid-test, which probably led to the repetition of the entire test procedure. I was at KSC that day and can attest to this disruption. But again, I must ask to remain anonymous."
Editor's note: three days before the Kerry visit a dozen or so reporters - including myself - visited the exact same location as Kerry did - except we did not go inside the orbiter. No one in the OPF stopped work for us as far as I could tell - indeed I watched someone working on a tile from only a few feet away. Nor should they have stopped. I wonder if the Kerry campaign has been approached to reimburse the government for the actual cost (in terms of lost work time) of his visit?