Sequester Cancels NASA Outreach


Well, it looks like it’s finally happened: the U.S. sequester — a “series of across-the-board cuts to government agencies totaling $1.2 trillion over 10 years” (CNN) — has finally hit NASA… right where it hurts, too: in public outreach and STEM programs. (UPDATE: some clarifications as to what this means — namely, that nothing’s actually been “canceled” but rather subject to review and possibly suspension — can be found at the end of this article. –JM)

In an internal memo issued on the evening of Friday, March 22, the Administration notes that “effective immediately, all education and public outreach activities should be suspended, pending further review. In terms of scope, this includes all public engagement and outreach events, programs, activities, and products developed and implemented by Headquarters, Mission Directorates, and Centers across the Agency, including all education and public outreach efforts conducted by programs and projects.”


Read the full memo from NASA Public Affairs below:

Subject: Guidance for Education and Public Outreach Activities Under Sequestration

As you know, we have taken the first steps in addressing the mandatory spending cuts called for in the Budget Control Act of 2011. The law mandates a series of indiscriminate and significant across-the-board spending reductions totaling $1.2 trillion over 10 years.

As a result, we are forced to implement a number of new cost-saving measures, policies, and reviews in order to minimize impacts to the mission-critical activities of the Agency. We have already provided new guidance regarding conferences, travel, and training that reflect the new fiscal reality in which we find ourselves. Some have asked for more specific guidance at it relates to public outreach and engagement activities. That guidance is provided below.

Effective immediately, all education and public outreach activities should be suspended, pending further review. In terms of scope, this includes all public engagement and outreach events, programs, activities, and products developed and implemented by Headquarters, Mission Directorates, and Centers across the Agency, including all education and public outreach efforts conducted by programs and projects.

The scope comprises activities intended to communicate, connect with, and engage a wide and diverse set of audiences to raise awareness and involvement in NASA, its goals, missions and programs, and to develop an appreciation for, exposure to, and involvement in STEM. Audiences include employees, partners, educators, students, and members of the general public. The scope encompasses, but is not limited to:

– Programs, events, and workshops.
– Permanent and traveling exhibits, signage, and other materials.
– Speeches, presentations, and appearances, with the exception of technical presentations by researchers at scientific and technical symposia.
– Video and multimedia products in development (and renewal of existing products).
– Web and social media sites in development (excludes operational sites).
– External and internal publications, with the exception of Scientific and Technical Information as defined by NPD 2200.1B.
– Any other activity whose goal is to reach out to external and internal stakeholders and the public concerning NASA, its programs, and activities.

Additional information regarding the waiver and review process will be issued by the Associate Administrators for Communications and Education. The Agency has already made tough choices about conferences and travel. For those activities planned to be held between the date of this memorandum through April 30, 2013, that your organization deems to be Agency mission-critical, the Headquarters Offices of Communications and Education will conduct a waiver process to promptly evaluate those specific efforts.

For future activities, the Offices of Communications and Education have established a process to assess and determine, in light of the current budget situation, what education and public outreach activities should be determined Agency mission critical and thereby be continued or implemented. We are requesting Mission Directorates and Headquarters organizations submit a summary of activities, including those planned by their respective programs and projects. We are also requesting that Centers submit a summary of Center-sponsored or supported activities. For public outreach activities, these should be submitted to David Weaver, Associate Administrator for Communications, no later than April 15, 2013. For education activities, these should be submitted to Leland Melvin, Associate Administrator for Education, also no later than April 15, 2013. Required summary and waiver documentation is being provided for distribution to Mission Directorates, Centers, programs, and projects through the Communications and Education Coordinating Councils. The Headquarters Office of Communications, working in conjunction with the Office of Education, will review the requested data and will make a timely and appropriate determination regarding what activities will go forward as planned.

This guidance is to be applied to all NASA employees, civil servants, and contractors (working through their contract officers). Leadership in our Centers, Mission Directorates, as well as individual program and project managers are responsible for ensuring that all public engagement activities, including the education and public outreach efforts conducted by programs and projects, are suspended and submitted to the review process. This guidance applies to existing and future efforts at least through the end of FY2013.

As our budgetary situation evolves over the coming months, NASA senior managers will continue to review this guidance and adjust, as appropriate. We appreciate your cooperation during this challenging fiscal period. Any questions on this guidance should be directed to David Weaver, Associate Administrator for Communications, Leland Melvin, Associate Administrator for Education. Dr. Elizabeth Robinson, Chief Financial Officer, or David Radzanowski, Chief of Staff.

Source: and NASA Watch

Note: hopefully this is more a sign of the formation of an internal review process than an all-out moratorium on programs… stay tuned for more news regarding this. Updates to be posted below.

Update: SpaceRef has posted an additional memo regarding exemptions from immediate suspension, notably “mission announcement media events and products, breaking news activities, and responses to media inquiries.” See the full memo here.

Update #2: According to an article on AmericaSpace, the Administration’s popular NASA Socials will still be held — events where select social media followers of various NASA accounts are invited to participate in public events and behind-the-scenes VIP tours — plus other social activities will still be taking place. (Although neither the article above nor the original one on SpaceRef specifically mentioned cancellation of the Socials, the memo’s bullet list does seem to imply as much.) This according to Deputy Associate Administrator for Communications Bob Jacobs. Read the full article here.

Also, Scott Lewis has an article up regarding this and the importance of NASA’s outreach programs to the public… check it out on his site

Update #3 3/23: After discussing this online today with Bob Jacobs, Deputy Associate Administrator for Communications, I learned that while most expenditures will now be critically reviewed first, it’s not like NASA is simply canceling all their programs wholesale.

“There’s a waiver process in place and there will be exemptions for mission activities…most activities will continue, I am confident of that,” Bob said. “But there are always things you can do better or more efficient, and these cuts are going to force the entire government to reduce services.”

“The more money saved the more likely you can avoid furloughs and maintain safe mission operations, which is the agency’s priority,” Bob added.


46 Replies to “Sequester Cancels NASA Outreach”

    1. This is just another cut designed to maximize public visibility. It’s not like they’re doing any real cutting, and the “$1.2T over 10 years in cuts” is actually a reduction in the theoretical rate of spending growth over that time period, which will never come to pass.

      They don’t care about being responsible with money, so they cancel tours of the white house, but not the funding for arming cops with machine guns to kill medical marijuana users.

      1. The sequester is an actual cut to many departments (although not the big ones) for this fiscal year and setting a new baseline for growth from now on, not slowing the rate of growth.

        Yes the Obama administration is playing up the negative result of the sequester as much as possible, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have real consequences. The only reason why cops would have machine guns to kill medical marijuana users is if they also had machine guns and were trying to kill the cops. In which case, that is a pretty important thing to fund.

  1. I do not openly question the validity of things posted on Universe Today – never have – never would – but I wondering why you question the accuracy of what we post. The memo is valid, authentic, multi-sourced, etc. I already told you that in a response to the email you sent me. Keith Cowing NASAWatch/SpaceRef.

    1. I think Jason’s ending comments on the post reflects many of our concerns. Though this appears to be genuine, no original source was released with first article on SpaceRef, with NASAWatch sourcing the original article on SpaceRef. I, for one, would definitely love to see the PDF being quoted, instead of just mentioning that it’s the quoting of an internal memo.

      I don’t see any questioning of your journalistic integrity and find it rather concerning that this is what you jumped on.

      1. Once again: I do not question Universe Today postings so I do not understand why you decide to question mine. If you do not trust NASAWatch or SpaceRef then do not read them. Aviation Week, Florida Today, Spaceflight Now etc do not post original PDF versions of memos and cite them and you do not question them, do you?

      2. I think this is skirting the issue just a bit. Jason, nor I, am attacking your journalistic integrity. However, with extraordinary claims like this, one would really desire to see the actual source. I’m not sure why you’re taking this as an actual attack on you or your website, when all that’s being asked is to see the source of such an extraordinary claim.

      3. PDFs are hard to read on iPhones. That is why I post the text. Also, PDFs files such as this one contain authoring information that would reveal source(s). I do not reveal sources. I am not going to start posting PDFs because one or two people want me to. Again, why don’t you question Aviation Week when they quote or repeat the text of things?

      4. Because this is not an ad-hominem. Bringing up other websites does not remove the desire to see the original source. I completely understand your need for you protecting anonymous sources, especially if they could be prosecuted for leaking such information. However, your response to these requests don’t relay that as being your motivation, but that “well xyz site does it, so I can too!”. That, as we all know, is not a good explanation for doing anything.

        However, it’s becoming clear that you’re not willing to share the original document with anyone, which is your prerogative. We’ll have to continue seeking out other sources that can corroborate your claim. Good day!

      5. There you go, questioning my motivations again. Anyone who has read my site since 1996 knows that I protect my sources. If you do not believe what is on NASA Watch then stop reading it and complaining that I have not satisfied your personal desires. Call NASA PAO at 202-358-1898 if you need to confirm the authenticity of this memo. FWIW I do not question the veracity of Fraser or any of his writers. Have a nice day.

    2. Exactly what Scott said below Keith — I wouldn’t have cited your article as a source had I honestly believed it wasn’t real, but without a link to an original source there was still that .001% chance of hearsay (and it’s such cruddy news one might wish it weren’t true.) But nobody’s questioning your journalistic integrity. Your diplomacy skills, maybe. But not your integrity.

      1. Try sending that same email you sent me to Aviation Week, Florida Today, Spaceflight Now etc and see how they react. They do not post original PDF versions of memos and cite them and you do not question them, do you?

      2. What harm could there be to the source in releasing the original PDF? If it’s a PDF that was distributed internally to specific people at NASA and who are named in the memo, NASA certainly knows who it was addressed to!

        I have to say that I’m a bit suspicious, both about the memo and its release (especially about the motives for its release).

  2. I read the above an immediately went over to NASA TV to see if they were still on the air? The wording above implied that this too would possibly ‘go away’? I like IVAN4MAN’s cartoon… talk about shooting yourself in the foot! IF you’ve gotta leg to stand on…. dzzzz

  3. Funny how when things hit an area of ones concern. One freaks’out. Admittedly so, I have been there done that. For 40 yrs or so in my field, they have all but took the kitchen sink, ..literally. I(we) survived. Now, some 20+ years later, after the confiscation of our lab & work(we were transfer’d), we have gotten more from what they took away all those many yrs ago. It is a balancing act. Look at Europe, everyone wants a share from the ‘one-pot-of-gold’.From pensions to this grant & that free-bee etc.. that ‘pot-a-gold’ dwindles &/or empties. Then whats next? …take care all.

    1. As a government-funded agency, NASA is notable in its public outreach. It does a great job at spreading the word about its programs and getting people excited about what it does — as well as inspires the next generation of scientists and engineers. Without those programs, I can see it getting really dusty and overlooked. Let’s hope this is just temporary.

      1. Yes, agreed. But remember, greed is theft. If you were to take all the thieves in gov’s different depts.. The savings & waste add up to billions of $’s. That is where they must oversight everything. Easier said than done. But there is hardly a “done”. Take care :-)… .

      2. I haven’t been excited about what NASA does for a long time. When NASA is ready to stop going round-n-round, always looking down and get back to MANNED exploration (going round-n-round isn’t exploring), wake me up and let me know.

      3. I’ll let the Cassini and MESSENGER and MSL and New Horizons and Dawn and Hubble and JWST folks know to buzz you when something interesting comes up.

  4. Of course, I hope everyone knows that the debt crisis is just a made up political tool and that their is more wealth in this world than has ever existed. It’s what we value folks.

  5. This doesn’t surprise me. However, I have to point out that NASA is actually a private organization, not government controlled. While NASA does get a lot of funding from the Federal Government, it could go after private funding for help. Funding for the outreach program and a lot of NASA’s other programs were cut 4 years ago by the Federal Government, including the shuttle program. I don’t think this has much to do with the sequester as much as it has to do with previous cuts to NASA’s government funding over the last few years. The sequester is just an excuse the politicians are using and it gives them a reason to point the finger at someone else…and not just for NASA spending cuts either, everything they’ve cut spending on over the last 4 years is being blamed on the sequester. It’s amazing how much blame is being put on less than a 2% spending cut.

    1. I hope you all realize the sequester is just a scam. We are still going to spend $15B more this yr than last on the federal level.

    2. NASA is a government organization, established by legislation and funded and authorized by Congress. It is not a private organization. It’s only source of funding is congressional allocation – NASA is not allowed to raise funds. And, by the way, the sequester is not a 2 percent cut – it’s around 8 percent.

  6. OMG you people. This memo is about the outreach/media end of things. It’s not like they’re shutting down research. So we hear less about what they’re doing – at least they’re still doing it. YEESH!

  7. On March 4, I received an email regarding my E/PO grant that stated: As you are likely aware, the President was required by law to issue a sequestration ordercanceling approximately $85 billion in budgetary resources across the Federal Government
    for the remainder of the Federal fiscal year. We are writing to provide you with timely and clear information about how these budget cuts impact us, and in turn what it means for funds provided to your organization.

    At this time, NASA is taking every step to mitigate the effects of these cuts, but based on our initial analysis, it is possible that your contract, grant, cooperative agreement, or Space Act agreement may be affected. In addition, planned actions for new and existing work may be re-scoped, delayed, or canceled depending on the nature of the work and the degree to which it directly supports the Agency’s mission goals.

    To the extent that your contract, grant, cooperative agreement, or Space Act agreement is affected due to these budget cuts, you will be contacted by your Contracting, Agreement or Grant Officer with additional details.

    Thank you for your continued partnership with NASA, and for your cooperation as we work together to continue operations and produce the important and necessary results that we have planned.

    Still no final word on my project, but this is clearly happening.

    1. Hm. I am wondering how incorrect they are then. The memo cited above and on SpaceRef doesn’t specifically mention NASA Socials, which Bob told you are still (thankfully) taking place. So I have to wonder what is and isn’t part of this review and suspension process. Clearly other cuts have been made already (as seen by many who were unable to attend the LPSC in The Woodlands because of them.)

  8. This will almost certainly affect the volunteer NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador program that I JUST became a part of. I haven’t received any communications from the program admin yet, but I did forward this article to her and asked about it.

  9. Let us remember, there are no cuts in the sequester — they are slowing the rate of growth. It’s like saying: “I planned on gaining 50 pounds this year, but I only gained 45. Therefore I ‘lost’ 5 pounds.” There is no actual reduction.

    NASA inspired me as well, but they inspired me with actual missions — not outreach. A mission that grabs the attention of the public will do far more than “outreach.”

    1. What extent did “outreach” help NASA reach to the moon during the Apollo missions ?
      My guess is pretty much ZILCH . The best and the brightest tend to be inspired more by a solid mission budget and the freedom to plan out of the box like SpaceX rather than “outreach”.

    2. They are actual cuts. It doesn’t include a lot of things, so overall government spending may still go up, but the sequester is cuts, not slowing the rate of growth. Unless you have a source that shows otherwise?

      While I agree that actual missions do more to inspire than outreach, but outreach does help kids learn and get involved in science and technology, which is needed if we want to do any kind of missions during the next generation.

  10. Am glad that the original statement was somewhat incomplete and not all NASA STEM and outreach programs will be eliminated! When I originally mentioned this article to my wife, a primary school teacher, she went ballistic! Not that her tiny school has much to do with any NASA program.. but they DO push science and math as much as possible while dealing with repeated funding cuts. She’s quite angry about how educational resources in country have been cut or put on the ‘back burner’. We BOTH feel that NOW is the time to reinvigorate those resources, not cut them.

  11. If the term ‘base line budgeting’ is looked up, one can find that government spending is never cut only it’s rate of growth. Meanwhile Biden drops close to $1M on a couple hotel stays. Elitism is alive and well.

  12. I could not agree with you and your wife more about this being a deplorable move by NASA. It is imperative that America strongly bolster its STEM education outreach, not reduce or eliminate it.

    I have been involved in volunteer STEM outreach for over 20 years , having used US space exploration as my foundation for reaching children, families and communities. NASA and its STEM outreach is absolutely paramount to energizing our children about STEM and the world around them and above them in the vastness of space.

    Maybe NASA should leverage this rare opportunity to make a very profound statement by shutting down ALL NASA public web operations immediately (going black) and ALL support of universities, colleges and K-12 schools, cold turkey. We need something to open the public’s eyes and generate a ground swell of support for NASA and our nation’s support of vital and critical support of our children’s STEM education.

    America is rapidly losing the educational race with other countries, with STEM taking a backseat to everything else. Americans have lost focus over the past 30 to 40 years on the critical importance of STEM education, thinking it is “someone else’s job”. This job lands squarely in the lap of EVERY American.

  13. It’s a 5% cut to many discretionary programs and 8% cut to the military. I’m not sure where you (i mean the parent poster) get the extra $15B, but it’s likely from things not included in the cut (like SS and Medicare, I think unemployment insurance, food stamps, etc wasn’t included either). Plus the sequester kicked in half way through the budget year.

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