HQ Security Fumbles Again

Editor's update: I sent several 'customer complaint' emails to David Saleeba, AA for Security and Program Protection at NASA HQ last week. I haven't heard back from him. Not that I am horribly upset by my most recent encounter with his with his security staff, mind you - based on past experience I wasn't at all surprised at how they screwed things up. But having gotten no response back from Saleeba does lead me to conclude that such poor performance is acceptable at NASA.

Editor's 15 June note: I picked up my new press badge today. While NASA PAO went out of their way to help me, NASA Security went out of their way to make things difficult.

This needs to be done once a year and people are cautioned not to let it expire. Last week I called PAO to request a new badge. Within just a few minutes someone called me back, got all the pertinent information from me including when I would be in to pick up the badge, and fired off an email with all this information to security. The model of efficiency - fast and friendly.

When I arrived today just after 11:00 am I went into the badging office. The same guy (I did not get his name) who has issued me a badge every year for the past 5 years was there. When I told him I was there to pick up my badge he told me I had to go in the next room to find the person who had me on a list. He did not say exactly who I should talk to. I had to figure that out. This is exactly the same thing he said to me last year.

I went into the next room and one was there except a guy fiddling with his iPod who told me that he was "just a contractor" and that the person I needed to talk to wasn't here - and that he did not know where she was. I went back to the badge guy and updated him. He told me I had to wait. He did not say how long - just that I had to wait. I told him that the email had been sent last week. He groaned, got up from his seat and went to look for someone. He came back a minute later and said that the person I needed to talk to was in a meeting and told me which door to knock on. He wouldn't do it - I had to.

I knocked on the door, explained what I needed and a woman (Sarah Uribe) came out to help me. I told her the events thus far and she asked if the badge guy had checked a list. I said no. Sarah looked annoyed and said that the list was in his office. We went back to the badge guy's office. He was not there. She picked up a white binder that was on his desk and checked it. Why the badge guy couldn't reach over and do this was beyond me. Again, this exact same situation had happened last year.

Sarah then asked why I was here since my badge hadn't expired yet. I thought this was hilarious since the security people (and PAO) made it clear to me (and other media) that if I let the badge expire I'd have to go through a full FBI background check again. I thought that coming in a week before that date was prudent.

The badge guy then came back. Since I was not on the list Sarah told me I had to contact someone in PAO. Fair enough. I asked if I could use a phone. Sarah asked the badge guy if I could use his phone. He then made a bunch of exaggerated gestures as if this was some sort of big deal to let me use his government telephone for official business. Sarah said never mind and we went into the next room where I was told to use another phone. Just as I got in contact with PAO a guard came in and ordered me to hang up the phone (the same one that the other guards had just told me to use) and told me to use another one out in the lobby. He did not seem to care that I was trying to resolve a problem within his organization.

I expressed my annoyance and then went upstairs to PAO. Upon arrival I found that the secretary (Jackie) who had helped me before and had been on the phone had headed down to security on her own initiative to help me out - but we used different elevators and missed each other. Jackie then printed out a copy of the email she had sent a week before and went back downstairs with me to resolve the situation. It seems that security lost the email and/or changed the person responsible for such things but did not bother to tell anyone about it.

Sarah escorted me back into the badge guy's office and a few minutes later I had my new badge. I certainly hope that this is not the new standard process for updating the media's badges. I can't think of a more efficient way to annoy people.


Editor's update: I got this from a Washington journalist who has long covered NASA for a prominent national publication who wishes to remain anonymous:

"Keith,

I read with great amusement your tale of getting your NASA credentials this year. Guess I found it so interesting and funny because the same thing happened to me this time and last.

I also was renewing early (in mid-December), called the PAOs and got an email sent down to security. When visited security office a couple of days later (arriving early prior to a NASA news event - trying to kill two birds and all that), no one in security knew anything about it and people started treating me as if I was trying to pull a fast one on them. The security guy in the photo room sent me to the next room and followed me, watching from a distance. I finally was pointed to a woman who looked in several places, but found no record of an email. Then she said the person who normally gets these emails was out sick that day, and told me to come back at some other time. I called upstairs, but Jackie wasn't there. So I left.

The next day Jackie sent another email and I made a special trip to NASA a couple of days later (1 or 2 days before the badge was to expire). Same suspicious treatment. Sent to next room. But this time, woman who gets emails was there and found it. Back to photo room, got new badge from security guy who seemed reluctant to hand it to me. He rose from his desk and followed me to door as I left.

Good to know NASA security is so vigilant."


Editor's note: I also got this from a former NASA astronaut:

"Hi Keith. Loved your missive on NASA HQ security! Been there, done that. Both when I was an active astronaut visiting HQ and just last fall on a visit I made as a consultant, so rest assured, it's not just press folks they treat that way. Probably dealt with the same dude you did. In my younger days I used to get pretty fired up when having to deal with idiots like that, much more philosophical now. Last fall's experience just made me grateful I had gotten the heck out of working full time for the FUBAR agency and am out in the real world, only occasionally tagging up with the Never A Straight Answer world of NASA HQ."

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on June 19, 2006 9:10 AM.

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