John Kelly: NASA needs to power up PR machine, Florida Today
"The solution is for NASA to use its broad, and well-funded, public relations arm to make sure that the public does hear about its successes and its progress. NASA must make it known that the new super rocket is being built, tests are being completed, and progress is being made toward test flights."
Keith's note: I am a chronic critic of NASA PAO, but this throwaway line by John Kelly begs a response. NASA's "public relations arm" is anything but "well-funded". Quite the contrary: overall PAO resources have been reduced nearly 75% since 2006. That does not mean NASA does not spend a lot of taxpayer's dollars on various communications activities. As the agency's corporate communications ability shrinks (thanks in large part to a $10 million OMB mandated reduction for a project wrongfully credited to NASA PAO), individual NASA projects and mission directorates make up the difference through independent PR efforts executed under an umbrella known as "public outreach".
However, those public outreach efforts are rarely coordinated with each other or with the agency's corporate communications arm at NASA PAO. As such, PAO often watches in frustration as money is spent on websites, philanthropic efforts, videos, and toys that have little overall value to NASA while resources for the agency's primary communications efforts dwindle due constant Congressional cuts.
If you want to send a message to the managers of SLS and Orion and other spaceflight projects, tell them to worry about completing their projects on time and on budget, and stop trying to figure out how to make these vital programs popular with the American people. They may be terrific engineers but they often make lousy decisions when it comes to executing PR activities and almost always ignore in-house expertise, thus duplicating efforts and wasting money.
Instead, the programs and projects should turn over the resources, responsibility, and accountability to the agency's communications professionals and empower them to execute the kind of coordinated and strategic efforts suggested in Kelly's article. And of course, if NASA gets too good at the sort of PR Kelly would like to see, then he and the rest of the news media will invariably start to dump on NASA - but this time for spending too much money on PR.