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Letter From Space Journalists to NASA Administrator Griffin Regarding Recent Security Policy Changes at NASA Headquarters

Status Report From: SpaceRef Interactive, Inc.
Posted: Tuesday, October 10, 2006

October 10, 2006

Dr. Michael Griffin
Administrator
NASA Headquarters
300 E Street, SW
Washington, D.C. 20546

Dear Dr. Griffin:

As journalists who cover NASA, we are deeply concerned about the new policy effective October 1 barring all news media from entering headquarters in Washington without an escort from the Office of Public Affairs. This policy, made without consultation with the media, runs directly counter to the space agency's longstanding tradition and reputation for openness and cooperation with reporters and editors.

In order to receive a NASA badge, journalists must provide detailed information as well as their fingerprints to agency security officials. The badge entitles media to meet with officials within headquarters without a constant escort. Under the new policy, the only advantage that the badge will confer is the ability to pass through security without being searched. We are unclear as to why this change was made, and the nature of the threat posed by credentialed journalists. Such tight restrictions are not imposed by most federal agencies which do not conduct classified work, or by Congress.

We note that you acted swiftly and decisively earlier this year when public affairs officers blocked access between reporters and agency scientist James Hansen. In a statement to employees February 4, you said that "NASA has always been, is, and will continue to be committed to open scientific and technical inquiry and dialogue with the public." You go on to quote the 1958 Space Act which requires the agency "to provide for the widest practicable and appropriate dissemination of information concerning its activities and the results thereof." We agree with your further comment that "it is not the job of public affairs officers to alter, filter or adjust engineering or scientific material produced by NASA's technical staff."

It is hard to reconcile these statements with the new policy, which was announced unilaterally without request for public comment. The requirement that reporters be escorted by public affairs officers at all times within the headquarters building would unduly inhibit the flow of information between NASA employees and the media.

During your recent visit to China, you said that human space cooperation between that country and the United States "requires a great degree of trust and openness." It is both sad and ironic that even as you spoke these words, your agency was taking a step toward restricting access for those who seek to disseminate information on the nation's civil space program to the American public and the world.

We request that you rescind this ill-advised policy.

Sincerely,

[Signed]

Ted Agres
Deputy Managing Editor
Washington Times

James Asker
Managing Editor
Aviation Week & Space Technology

Seth Borenstein
Science Writer
Associated Press

Nell Boyce
Correspondent
National Public Radio

Keith Cowing
Editor
NASAWatch

Robert Lee Hotz
President
National Association of Science Writers
Staff Reporter
Los Angeles Times

John Johnson Jr.
Staff Reporter
Los Angeles Times

Warren Leary
Staff Reporter
New York Times

Colin Norman
News Editor
Science Magazine

Lon Rains
Editor
Space News

Traci Watson
News Reporter
USA Today

Rick Weiss
Staff Reporter
Washington Post

Larry Wheeler
Correspondent
Gannett News Service

Deborah Zabarenko
Correspondent
Reuters

cc:

Eric Sterner, Associate Deputy Administrator, Policy and Planning, and Acting Chief of Strategic Communications
David Mould, Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs
Dean Acosta, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs
Robert "Doc" Mirelson, Newsroom Chief

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