NASA clamps down on travel spending


While most of NASA's travel destinations are less expensive to get to than this one, the agency is enacting strict rules to curtail travel, as a cost-cutting move. (NASA image)

Event planners hoping to book NASA speakers: You have a problem.

The space agency will continue to cut its travel expenditures and conference spending in 2013 as it readies for sequestration and makes good on President Barack Obama’s executive order to promote efficient agency spending.

While travel and conference attendance have not been banned entirely, the new criteria ensure few if any NASA employees will be jetting off to events. ("Local Center" conferences are still permitted, so long as "there are no associated travel costs and attendance contributes to the agency's core mission.") To attend a domestic conference that requires travel, the event must:

  1. Be "essential and/or necessary;"
  2. Contribute to NASA's core mission;
  3. "Substantially involve" the attendee (moderating a panel does not qualify, though presenting may); and
  4. Remote participation by phone or video conference is not possible;
The bar for attending international conferences is even higher.

NASA released a statement to FCW on March 12 after rumors swirled when NASA employees scheduled to speak at events had to cancel.

"NASA has moved aggressively to reduce its conference spending, and over the past calendar year has reduced costs by 30 percent," the statement said. "In addition, the agency reduced travel costs by $21 million in Fiscal Year 2012. As we address the impact of sequestration on the agency’s operations, we will continue to look for ways to more efficiently and cost-effectively carry out the agency’s missions of exploration, scientific discovery, and research and development."

The agency’s policy was established in January, and affects all NASA centers and personnel, according to a spokesperson.

In a March 13 email to agency employees and contractors that included the new policy guidelines, NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden, Jr., wrote that "It should be no surprise that sequestration has required us to take a hard look at realizing savings while minimizing mission impacts.... These guidelines call for increased scrutiny of and reductions in travel and training expenditures for the remainder of FY 2013. They also call for new limits on monetary awards as well as conference sponsorships and attendance."

The new guidelines apply "to NASA employees and to all contract employees, including JPL employees, to extent permissible," Bolden wrote. "You should know that Deputy Administrator Lori Garver and I have already begun to adjust our activities in line with these guidelines. We have both canceled travel and participation in the April National Space Symposium in Colorado and I have also canceled a planned overseas trip."

Bolden also stressed that NASA does not plan to furlough employees, and that no changes have been made to agency hiring policy.

About the Author

Frank Konkel is a former staff writer for FCW.

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Reader comments

Fri, Mar 15, 2013

NASA can get by without furloughs because something like 80% of the agency's budget is used for procurements. Only 20% goes for CS salaries, etc.

Thu, Mar 14, 2013 Owen Ambur Hilton Head Island, SC

It is insufficient merely to link conference attendance with agency "missions," which are quite broad. Instead, the costs should be explicitly linked to objectives in agency strategic plans and employee performance plans. The element of the StratML standard can be used to do so. Moreover, the objectives of government-sponsored conferences should be documented in performance plans of their own and the results should be documented in performance reports. As per sec. 10 of GPRAMA, such plans and reports should be published in machine-readable format, preferably an open, standard format like StratML.

Thu, Mar 14, 2013 M. Colver Colorado

If Bolden needs to make a speech somewhere why doesn't he just get one of the astronauts that needs to get hours in on their T-38 trainers to fly him to the speech location.

Thu, Mar 14, 2013

That's nice. NASA can cut costs without furloughs. Interesting that an organization providing less-than-critical services can do that while ones that don't can not. It makes one wonder what is really going on. Just think about it and the obvious answer should come to you unless you have rose-colored glasses when looking at this administration.

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