More news on the NASA conference ban for 2009, and the possible impacts.

The source of the conference amendment (sec 1121 of HR 6063) is Sen Coburn, apparently, as noted in comments in the previous post.

NASAwatch links to the NASA memos on this policy

Two things are unambiguous:

NASA direct payment for conference activity is virtually prohibited, not just because of the spending cap, but also because of the reporting and audit requirements.

Secondly, NASA civil servant spending on conference travel is tightly capped and will be severly curtailed. The memos suggest that priority will be given to scientists and engineers presenting results, in theory.

Two things are ambiguous:

Panels and reviews are exempted, but I cannot parse the sentence describing the constraints. “Travel to conduct PROGRAMMATIC or INSTITUTIONAL reviews or meetings with only NASA civil service and NASA-funded contractors in attendance for which no fees are charged and no food is provided”. My read of this is that bringing university scientists to programmatic reviews will count against the conference cap, so next year review panels will have to be all NASA civil servants.

Second thing is: does this apply to NASA grant recipients, and if so, which grants?
“NASA may NOT direct contractors, subcontractors or grant recipients to attend or sponsor conferences.” – is there an implied negative here? ie is NASA cannot direct attendance, does that mean they cannot prohibit attendance?
What I do know, is that at least for some of our NASA grants, we have received immediate guidance from NASA program officers, with immediate strict enforcement by local grant officers, which basically require explicit permission for all travel on NASA funds. Including, just to be safe, I’m sure, travel using 2008 funding using grants with explicit travel funding budgeted in it. Anything after Oct 1st is being treated as “permission needed”, independent of the grant detail, as long as it is NASA.

In the mean time, we await guidance, and quietly cancel travel plans. My impression is that the intent was to hit the NASA civil servant travel, but not university grant recipients, but it is the language of the law that will be parsed, not any intent.

Nick White at GSFC summarises the situation well:
“In terms of who is covered by the restriction, it is not 100% clear. Civil service travel clearly is in. And JPL is definitely included. But for travel under grants and contracts we are still waiting to hear. “

Comments

  1. #1 Jonathan Vos Post
    October 21, 2008

    Now that NASA folks can’t come to our conferences, let’s all write about The Face on Mars;)

  2. #2 Craig Heinke
    October 22, 2008

    For those who want to bring some pain to the sponsor (Coburn), he will next run for re-election in 2010. However, Coburn only has any power through having 40+ Republican senators on his side, to filibuster bills and generally interfere. The Dems are within a few percentage points of knocking off enough sitting Republican senators to get to 60 senators; so if anyone wants to show their anger at Coburn, contribute to (any of) Kay Hagan (NC), Jeff Merkley (OR), Al Franken (MN), Jim Martin (GA), Bruce Lunsford (KY), Ronnie Musgrove (MS), and Mark Begich (AK), through, say, http://www.ActBlue.com.