NASA Clarifies New Public Affairs Policy

NASA's top officials rolled out anew public affairs policy Thursday designed to ensure open communicationsbetween its employees, scientists and the public.

NASA chief Michael Griffin anddeputy administrator Shana Dale discussed the new communications policy, whichthe agency drewup following allegations that a political appointee stifled a topclimatologist known for speaking out on global warming, during a televisedagency-wide update.

"The goal was to clarify ourcommitment to scientific and technical openness," Dale said during thediscussion, which was broadcast to NASA centers via NASA TV.

The space agency's review ofits public affairs policies, which Dale said had not been updated since 1991,came after a New York Times reportthat former NASA press aide George Deutsch--a 24-year-old political appointee--playeda role in muzzling climatologist James Hansen,who heads the Goddard Institute of Space Studies in New York City.

Deutsch has since resigned, and claimed hewas targeted because of his political ties as a Bush administration appointee.

"The circumstance with Mr. Deutsch wasmost unfortunate," Griffinsaid. "We certainly hope it won't be repeated."

Griffin said that the new eight-pagepolicy is aimed not only at clarifying the roles and responsibilities of thoseNASA scientists and engineers that produce technical information, but also laysout how information is to be handled by public affairs officials, as well as anappeals process to resolve concerns.

"It is important for our employeeswithin NASA to understand that they can appeal a decision by their management,"Griffin said."There is a path for everyone to appeal a decision that he or she believes iswrong, and there will be no retribution for appealing."

Griffin said that NASA employees are freeto grant interviews without a member of the agency's public affairs office(PAO) staff present, but stressed the importance of coordination between thetwo because of the risk of being misquoted or blind-sided by reporters.

"It's not an absolute requirement," Griffin said ofaccompanied interviews. "I would just do what you want, but my advice is that if you're not a media professional, stepping into an interview without a media professional present is courtingtrouble."

According to the new policy,scientists are free to communicate their scientific conclusions of theirresearch to the media, but any personal opinions or views beyond that must bespecifically labeled as such.

Griffin also stressed that the space agencyis a technical body that presents facts and not policy--which is what to do witha set of facts--so employees should be clear to explain which statements arepersonal opinions.

"We're not going to hang people," Griffin said about theexpression of personal opinions. "But we'd like people to realize thedifference between what are the facts, and what areopinions."

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