NASA Clarifies Communications Policy After Political Controversy
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NASA Clarifies Communications Policy After Political Controversy

NASA administrator Michael Griffin has revealed new rules that govern the release of agency information to news media and the public. The new eight-page policy, were written by the agency’s scientists, lawyers, public affairs specialists and managers.

Paul Holmes

HOUSTON—NASA administrator Michael Griffin has revealed new rules that govern the release of agency information to news media and the public. The new eight-page policy, written by the agency’s scientists, lawyers, public affairs specialists and managers, makes it clear that NASA scientists are free to talk to members of the media about their scientific findings and even express personal interpretations of those findings.

The new rules are a response to allegations earlier this year that political appointees in NASA’s public affairs office had sought to suppress the release of scientific information related to global warming that might undermine the positions of the Bush administration. In another incident, a public affairs staffer sought to limit references to the Big Bang because it contradicted his religious beliefs.

The rules also make clear that scientists do not need to be accompanied by a public affairs officer with them when they speak with members of the media, though Griffin says he believes calling in public affairs professionals is the wisest course. The first of five principles in the new policy statement declares that NASA “is committed to a culture of openness” and assures the public that agency information “will be accurate and unfiltered.”

“If you’re not a media professional, then to go into an interview without a media professional is courting trouble,” he told reporters. “But you can do as you like.”

House science committee chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) praised the new policy, which he said “puts a premium on open communication.” NASA’s approach, he said in a statement, “should become a model for the entire federal government.”

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