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NASA Administrator Message: Audit of Selected NASA Conferences in Fiscal Years 2011-2012

Status Report From: NASA HQ
Posted: Thursday, July 18, 2013

image Today, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) released a report entitled, "Audit of Selected NASA Conferences in Fiscal Years 2011-2012." The report examined NASA's overall spending on 43 conferences during a two-year period, October 2010 through September 2012.

I welcome this review as part of NASA's culture of continuous improvement and our commitment to transparency and good stewardship of taxpayer money. In fact, as noted in the report, we began taking steps to improve our conference policies and procedures several years ago and have significantly enhanced our conference oversight review processes. It is also important to note that we further strengthened those processes in the two years since the conferences described in the IG's report. In addition, in response to the implementation of sequestration in March 2013, we further restricted participation in training, conferences, and non-conference travel to mission critical activities. I know these actions required a great deal of effort on your part to implement, but as good stewards of taxpayer dollars, your actions have helped ensure that the funds entrusted to us are being spent responsibly.

As a result of NASA's strengthened policies and increased scrutiny of conference spending, we reduced our spending on NASA-sponsored conferences in 2012 by almost 60 percent compared to 2010 levels.

Under the agency's current policies, specifically beginning with changes implemented in October 2011, the key issues identified in the OIG report would have been prevented or mitigated. For example, under NASA's current policies:

- Approval requirements for any NASA-sponsored conference are elevated, now requiring signature by a NASA Official-in-Charge (OIC).

- Participation or sponsorship in any conference which would cause NASA's total costs to exceed $100,000 is prohibited, unless first centrally reviewed by the Office of the Chief Financial Officer and approved by the deputy administrator.

- Participation or sponsorship in any conference above $500,000 is prohibited, unless the administrator grants a specific waiver.

- NASA prohibits industry or others from hosting "widely attended gatherings" at NASA-sponsored conferences.

- NASA prohibits the use of NASA funds to pay for food at NASA-sponsored conferences.

- NASA requires minimizing any conference planning trips and all must be approved by a NASA OIC.

Again, as a result of NASA's strengthened policies and increased scrutiny of conference spending, we reduced our spending on NASA-sponsored conferences in 2012 by almost 60 percent compared to 2010 levels. Moreover, we did not approve a 2012 Information Technology (IT) Summit nor did we approve a 2013 IT Summit. In addition, we shifted other planned large conferences, such as the NASA engineering community's 2013 Project Management Challenge, to a virtual format, resulting in significant savings.

In keeping with our commitment to being good stewards of taxpayer dollars, NASA appreciates the OIG's scrutiny, and I have directed senior leadership to continue looking for ways to ensure the highest standards of efficiency, accountability, and transparency. But this is a job for all of us. In these tight economic times, it is especially important that we redouble our efforts to manage prudently, cut costs, and spend wisely. I know I can count on your support.

Charlie B.

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