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NASA SMD's Fancy Dinner Party (Updated)

By Keith Cowing
July 1, 2011
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Keith’s 1 July update: According to NASA SMD: this is what SMD paid for the reception: “Planetary Program costs: $37.5K, which included the NASM facility rental, rental for chairs/stage/tables/etc, a/v, music, lighting and rigging, delivery, taxes.” That’s $37,500 that could have been spent on science. Instead, Ed Weiler spends it on a party.
Keith’s 30 June update: According to the AAS: “AAS handled the reception, the costs of which were covered by the corporate sponsors. Over 250 people attended, and the cost per person for food was approximately $48.” AAS did not handle rental for the facility, travel costs, media or any of the other things associated with this event. Rental of the floor space alone is in the range of $25,000 – even when discounted for NASA by NASM. NASA clearly wrote some large checks – and the money came from SMD – and that is money that was not available to be spent on actual EPO – or science. Yet last night at the reception SMD people were telling attendees (in response to my Twitter posts) that “no SMD money was used”. I am waiting for SMD to tell me what the cost to NASA was. Stay tuned.
Earlier post below

Keith’s 29 June note: NASA SMD held a reception and buffet (photo) at the National Air & Space Museum tonight to honor 50 years of nuclear powered spacecraft. Here is the non-transferable invitation I was sent. Note that no corporate sponsors are listed. These things are usually an excuse to see people you haven’t seen for 3 days at some other event. Not exactly a powerhouse topic to attract attendees from around Washington – and if it did, the food was the main draw – not nukes in space. In other words this was choir practice and free chow for NASA folks and their friends.
I have asked SMD PAO to provide cost figures for the reception. Having actually arranged for NASA receptions myself at NASM years ago I can tell you that these things are not cheap. Tens of thousands of dollars – easily – even for small ones. What baffles me is why Ed Weiler is off throwing self-congratulatory parties for a niche audience inside the beltway while his staff are forced to cut Exobiology grants – a place where the cost of the reception could make the difference in a grant for a grad student or some equipment.
Given the money that was spent on this why wasn’t it recorded for NASA TV? Streamed live? Tweeted @NASA? Oops. Can’t do that. NASA holds parties but doesn’t want to admit it. Oh well. Here in DC we all go to them and eat. We’re all guilty – but that still doesn’t make it the most prudent use of taxpayer dollars. Then again this is being done by SMD Education and Public Outreach which is only accountable to Ed Weiler. PAO has no control over this “public” activity.
This must have been what it was like at Nero’s house when Rome was burning.
Keith’s 29 June update: I am now told that the program handed out at the reception lists “sponsors”. Why are they not listed on the invitation – the one with the official NASA logo and “National Air & Space Museum” (a requirement for any event held there even if they do not spend a penny on it) listed as the inviting organizations? Isn’t it borderline fraudulent to send out an invitation for something this expensive with overt government agency endorsement and not say who is paying for it? Why are NASA civil servants calling people up to invite them to a reception?
Keith’s later 29 June update: Well if you do some digging (NASA offers no advice) you will see that the NASA invitation that NASA employees were sending out was intentionally misleading – this page from the invitation response website link shows that AAS, Lockheed Martin, APL, Hamilton Sunstrand, and Teledyne Brown were “hosts”. So NASA did not pay for all of this – but clearly they paid for some of it. We’ll see what, if anything, SMD provides me with tomorrow. So let me turn down my outrage (a little) about spending research dollars. This still this begs the question, what do these exclusive parties for a select few inside the beltway do to promote the exploration of space? The same money could have advanced real careers instead of expanding the waistlines of the locals at NASA HQ.
Just for giggles, this is the WAG letter (Widely Attended Gathering) that NASA OGC put out to alert employees as to how much they can accept as gifts. They expected 500 attendees at a cost of $50/person or $25,000. I will be willing to bet that the actual cost is much more than that.
This is still fiddling – while Rome burns – regardless of who pays the fiddler.

NASA Watch founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.