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National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) researchers generally disseminate their agency-funded research results through publications, presentations, agency releases, and media interviews. In 2007, GAO reviewed dissemination policies at NASA and two other agencies and found that NASA's policies were generally clear, but GAO's survey of NASA researchers raised concerns that many of them did not understand some of the policies and were generally unaware of how to appeal dissemination decisions. Congress in 2008 directed GAO to determine whether NASA is implementing its policies in a clear and consistent manner. To meet that requirement, GAO determined (1) what changes have been made to NASA's policies since 2007, (2) the views of NASA researchers on whether the policies have been more effectively communicated since 2007, and (3) what changes have occurred since 2007 in NASA's processes for researchers to follow if they wish to appeal decisions about the dissemination of their research results. GAO conducted a Web-based survey of all 2,790 NASA researchers and had a 57.5 percent response rate.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
National Aeronautics and Space Administration 1. To strengthen NASA's efforts to better inform its researchers and ensure that the policies guiding researchers and public affairs officials in their efforts to disseminate research results to other scientists and the public are well understood, the NASA Administrator should direct officials responsible for dissemination of research results through all routes to include in their efforts to inform researchers a focus on the processes researchers are to follow when they wish to appeal decisions.
Closed - Implemented
NASA's current public communications policy affirms that NASA scientists may speak freely with the media and public about scientific and technical matters based on their official work without approval from a communications officer or their supervisors. As a result, because approvals and decisions with regard to speaking with the media no longer need to occur, situations in which such a decision would be appealed have been eliminated by the current policy. NASA employees are still encouraged, but not required, to see the support of their communications officer to attest to the content of a media interview, provide post-interview follow up, and to ensure accurate and timely release of scientific information to the public. In addition, in December 2011, NASA's Office of Chief Scientist released a framework document, "Ensuring Scientific Integrity at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration," that reaffirmed NASA policies related to the maintenance and enhancement of scientific integrity within the agency. Specifically, this document stressed the importance of facilitating the free flow of scientific and technological information between NASA staff and the public. According to NASA officials, this document was consistent with the December 2010 memo issued by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy on scientific integrity principles. Further, NASA conducted training and held informal discussion with staff reaffirming guiding principles related to the dissemination of internal and external scientific and technical information.

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