Keith's note: Due to sequestration, civil servants at some agencies have sacrificed with mandatory furloughs. NASA cut travel instead. Yet some NASA civil servants are accepting their portion of the agency's sacrifice by traveling to a foreign resort at taxpayer expense.
According to this GSFC web page, a conference titled "Explosive Transients: Lighthouses of the Universe" is being held 15-20 September 2013 in Santorini, Greece. The co-chairs of this conference are Neil Gehrels, Fiona Harrison, Chryssa Kouveliotou, and Julie McEnery. Three of them are NASA civil servants (Fiona Harrison is not). The participants of this conference include at least five NASA civil servants: Kouveliotou, Gehrels, Racusin, McEnery, and Cenko.
The meeting is being held at the Petros M. Nomikos Conference Center which is "located at Firostefani on the outskirts of Fira, the capital of Santorini island. It is a neoclassical mansion, overlooking the caldera and the volcano.". In addition to the meeting NASA is sponsoring an Optional Boat Tour of the Caldera and the Volcano and "Homemade lunch, local wine and fruits will be served on board!"
Indeed, NASA went out of its way to create a poster for the event which shows a black hole rising over the scenic island of Santorini (enlarge).
Three NASA missions are listed as sponsors. The meeting is chaired by NASA civil servants. NASA's travel policies state that "Foreign conference participation and sponsorship is prohibited unless the conference as a whole is specifically approved by OCFO." So who in the NASA CFO Office approved this Fall vacation on Santorini?
Keith's 5 Sep update: This is not the first time that these NASA astronomers have been to Santorini on official business. Gehrels and Kouveliotou were also involved in a 2005 meeting on Santorini and are also shown in a picture from a 2003 event - also on Santorini. Neil Gehrel's father Tom Gehrels was even involved in the discovery of an asteroid that was eventually named 19034 Santorini - originally discovered in 1960. What a coincidence.
Keith's 6 Sep update: According to NASA PAO: "When sequestration guidelines were enacted, NASA canceled its planned $10,000 sponsorship of this conference. NASA has not contributed any funding. Also, the agency is sending only six civil servants and their participation has been approved by the Office of the Chief Financial Officer under the required waiver process. All six will be involved in meetings with international partners regarding the future operation of NASA gamma-ray missions such as Swift and NuSTAR. Any of the six participating in the optional boat tour will be required to purchase a ticket at his or her own expense. The conference poster was produced by another conference organizer, not NASA. The Goddard Space Flight Center Web page on which it appears was created when the conference was organized and before restrictions on foreign conference attendance were in place. "Explosive Transients: Lighthouses on the Universe" is one in a series of conferences being sponsored by scientific organizations around the world. The conference is an opportunity not only for science presentations, but also for these organizations to do joint planning of gamma ray missions."
- Message From The NASA Administrator: New Policies in Response to Sequestration, earlier post
- Bolden Cuts Travel; Buys Toy Telescope Models, earlier post
- Growing Impact of Travel Restrictions, earlier post
- NASA Makes Cuts in Travel Budgets, earlier post