NASA Management Seeks to Muzzle Its Employees

Message from NASA Headquarters - Communicating With the Public, NASA HQ

"To ensure a responsive public communications program and enhance public perception of NASA, each Center has designated a Public Inquiries Officer for managing communications, including letters, e-mails, faxes and telephone inquiries, from the general public." ... " Here is how the E-Gov Initiative works. Effective immediately, if you receive an e-mail from a member of the public, promptly forward it to the designated e-mail address for your Center" ... "In both cases, no follow up is necessary. You will not receive a reply that the e-mail has been successfully accepted, nor will you receive a copy of the response."

Editor's note: This is both utterly hilarious - and sad. I guess this is what passes for "strategic communications" according to Joe Davis. Instead of having the person at NASA who might actually know what they are talking about respond to a taxpayer's inquiry, some PAO flack will now do that instead - and the technical expert to whom the inquiry was addresed will never know how the agency responds. What a wonderful way to make true communication evaporate! Of course, the response time will now be positively glacial - and the response, once sent, will be laced with HQ PAO spin and devoid of the technical content only an expert can provide. No doubt a committee will have to approve every response. If ever there was a single action on the part of NASA that served to make the space agency less responsive and more isolated from the taxpaying public, this is it. Indeed, this action is also indicative of management - starting at the top of the agency (with Mike Griffin) - that is afraid of allowing its people to interact with those who pay their salaries - and whose interests they serve.

Obviously no one at NASA really thought this through. What is the "general public" anyways? Has it ever been formally defined? Does it mean someone who does not work at NASA? If you are a non-NASA scientist asking a NASA civil servant a question, does the PAO filter need to come into play before they respond? If the question is purely technical will PAO get their own independent expertise to answer it (do recall that this process takes the recipient out of the loop). What about asking questions of the contacts listed on all NASA procurement notices? Does PAO now take on that role? If I am an astronomer employed by NASA but send a quick note to someone in my carpool who works on the shuttle program asking when the next shuttle launch is, am I 'general public' (since this is a question many people would ask) ? What about questions asked of NASA speakers at grammar schools - does PAO need to screen them before a speaker responds? If someone sitting next to you on a plane asks you what you do for a living, do you need to check with PAO first?

Comments? Send them to


Luncacy...sheer lunacy. Your assessment of the email is right on. This is yet the latestattemptby HQ to take complete control of the Agency's employees.Add to this the ban of individual program logos, identical conference booth space/websites/presentation templates and, of course, the infamous OneNASA concept and you can clearly see that this was a deliberate attempt to stifle employee communication with the public.

BTW...this email has been a topic of conversation around MSFC and I do not know of anyone who plans to follow this policy. Many have said that they will respondto questionsusing their personal email accounts - just to make sure they steer clear of any managerial retribution.

The more HQ tries to tighten its grip on us, the more we slip through its fingers.

Anonymous from MSFC"

"Asked at the Apollo 11 postflight crew press conference when he had begun to think about what he would say and how long he pondered the words, Neil replied:

"Yes, I did think about it. It was not extemporaneous neither was it planned. It evolved during the conduct of the flight and I decided what the words would be while we were on the lunar surface just prior to leaving the LM. (Houston, 12 August 1969)"

Asked years later if NASA suggested a line for him to say, Neil answered:

"The late Julian Scheer, who really led the NASA relations with the outside world in many ways, was absolutely adamant that Headquarters never put words in the mouths of their people, not just astronauts, but anybody, that they let people speak for themselves. They made it known sort of what the party line was and what the NASA position was, but beyond that, they never, to my knowledge, controlled the public statements of others. Certainly they insisted, in the case of the flight crews, that they not be told what to say, that their statements be their own elocution of what they saw and what they wanted to say. As far as I know, that prohibition was never violated."

"Actually this is the typical knee jerk reaction to how a large number Reporters use the answers they get to questions about NASA and the Space Program. If the answers are not sensational enough, take them out of context and reword the question. It sell news programs."

"Keith, Hello ... I appears that neither you nor most of the posters actually read the E-Mail that you linked to!! It states clearly that this is not a PAO or Mike Griffin initiative.

Editor's note: Then why is it a "Message from NASA Headquarters Point of Contact: Teresa Grimes, Office of Public Affairs" ?

It is part of the "President's E-Gov Initiative" for "Government-wide Misdirected E-Mails". It states clearly that it is for an E-Mail that "you believe does not fall under NASA's purview for response." The E-Mail is NOT reviewed and answered by PAO, which has nothing to do with it! It states clearly to forward it to from which it will be directed to the proper Agency. Anyone who took 2 minutes to read the referenced E-mail could see this clearly.

Editor's note: Re-read the memo. It says:

"if you receive an e-mail from a member of the public, promptly forward it to the designated e-mail address for your Center, listed at "

It makes no differentiation about the relevancy of the email. It simply tells people to send email from the public to a designated address. The next sentence specifically addresses misdirected email and tells people to send it to a different address.

"If you receive an e-mail that you believe does not fall under NASA's purview for response, simply forward the communication to"

This is no effort to muzzle is a government wide effort to not let mis-directed E-mails that get sent to another agency fall through the cracks.

Editor's note: The memo does not make that point very well. Indeed, if you re-read the memo you will see that it is addressing BOTH email from the general public - and email that may be misdirected to NASA - and provides different instructions for BOTH eventualities. Read the last paragraph of the memo: "In both cases, no follow up is necessary." BOTH cases.

Please retract your posting and criticism. It is shameful to use this to critique PAO and Griffin!

Doug Stanley"

"Keith, Perhaps I'm a bit naive, but when I received the email you're talking about, I assumed it referred only to emails I might receive by mistake--e.g., someone emailing me about the shuttle when they should speak to someone at Johnson or Kennedy--and that the PAO would provide a sort of "clearing house" for sorting through those emails and getting them to the proper person. Any question I get about my job I answer the best I can, regardless of the source. Nothing we do is, or should be, classified. I never thought the PAO would want to screen, or even know about, my responses unless I were dealing with the media in an official capacity. I guess a muzzle is only effective if you think it's there. I mostly ignored this email, and think--again, perhaps naively--most employees will too."

"You actually summed it up quite nicely, Keith, except to say that it looksasifBig Brother has arrived, and he has a name.


Scary. Very scary.Thank goodness most NASA personnel are smart enough to ignore the directive."


What a mess! To me, this is just another post 9/11 way for our government to avoid public accountability. NASA needs the public's trust and support now than in the previous 20 years.Hell, I don't think even our soldiers in Iraq are held to this standard!

I understand somewhat the need to filter information ( to keep the "60 Minutes" effect from happening i. e. reporters) but NASA is and should be an open organization. Its basic mission is the distribution of aerospace information to American industries and the American public. A better way to handle this would be if an employee receives an inquiry, the inquiry with a suggested response should be sent to the PAO. The PAO should bring the employee into the loop. The employee should be made aware of the PAO's response. Of course, the employee must consider that he/she is representing NASA when they speak, but frankly I think most adults know how to do that.

I'm getting the impression that Griffin is set to undo all the work that O'Keefe struggled to carve out. I sincerely hope that Griffin doesn't become another Dan Goldin."

"No identifiers, please.

My reaction to this? Simple- use it to my advantage. If I get an inquiry from an acquaintance I have known, I have no intention of following this. I will stress that I am not responding on behalf of NASA but only for myself - either from direct knowledge or personal opinion. The only exception is if the individual is associated with a Contract proposal or some known Competition. I will not provide anything in written form that was in fact paid for by NASA.

On the other hand, for those real dumb inquiries, opinions, or items I don't feel like responding to, it is nice to know there is some place to pass the buck. Just maybe can saturate PAO."


NASA upper management just doesn't seem to get it. They are making the fatal assumption that NASA is here to stay. They assume that Exploration is approved for full implementation and we are set for the next 30 years. What they don't realize is that NASA is well on it's way to becoming irrelevant in a country that has significant issues ranging from social uncertainty in an ever-polarizing political climateto national security in a post-Cold War environment where a determined enemy is lurking in every nook and cranny. I am a strong believer in America's space program, but I am becoming more and more skeptical about our ability to deliver what the public deserves for their tax dollars. With commercial exploration of space emerging at a rapid pace, NASA could find itself going the way of the horse and buggy. People think the commercial space effort is a non-threat, but they don't realize just how quickly things can change. It reminds me of IBM ignoring the threat of personal computers in the mid-80's. How can those littledesktop toyscompete with our huge mainframes? Two decades later, we know the answer. I see the emerging commercial space industry as America's only chance to maintain it's dwindling lead in manned space flight. NASA is proving on a daily basis that it is no longer up to the task. This gag order by NASA management could very well be the early signs of a government bureaucracy in the early throws of self-delusional stagnation and extinction.

Anonymous please, after all, this hasn't been blessed by PAO."

"Sigh - well Keith, you can imagine my reaction. This is just another step in the same decline of NASA public outreach. It will make sure that public enquiries get so dumbed down that they are useless to any technically educated member of the public - if they ever get a reply at all. As we've discussed before, this means that NASA loses the leverage of many supportive geeks who in the past have taken their knowledge and gone out to spread the good word about NASA to the broader community. Even as worded, it's so obviously an attempt at ensuring management can enforce spin control and over-control information, and offensive to the public's intelligence. It will make the public trust NASA less, at a time when NASA desperately needs more public confidence."

Jonathan McDowell

"Wow! What an effective way to let NASA's people know they are neither trusted nor important. And what an insidious way to tell American taxpayers that NASA management thinks we have no stake in NASA's mission.If this is the case, how can NASA's people possibly be trusted with the safety of our astronauts and the operation of our spacecraft? And why would the American people continue to support NASA with our dollars? I certainly wouldn't."

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on August 30, 2005 1:00 PM.

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