an unhappy anniversary


Date: Fri, 10 Mar 1995 19:50:31 GMT From: Henry Spencer Subject: an unhappy anniversary

Today is the first anniversary of one of the less happy events in the history of sci.space.shuttle: the gag order on Ken Hollis.

For the newcomers, Ken was a sci.space.shuttle reader who worked at KSC (more specifically, for Lockheed Space Operations, LSOC, which has the major NASA contract for KSC operations), and regularly posted shuttle launch manifests and information on getting launch passes. On 10 March 1994, he was ordered to stop doing so, and told that any further postings by him on such subjects would have to be cleared by higher authorities first. That gag order is still in effect.

Understand, this was not a question of misuse of resources. Ken did this stuff on his own time, and posted via a NASA (not Lockheed) computer whose administrators explicitly approved.

Nor was this a question of releasing confidential information. Had Ken been a NASA employee, he would have been covered by the relevant NASA policy ("KMI 1382.1D"), which is most explicit: "Any KSC NASA employee is free to discuss publicly the space program and KSC activities as long as the information is current, correct, and carries no security classification." In fact, Dan Goldin has explicitly told NASA employees to talk to the public and help spread information, saying it is part of their jobs.

But Ken wasn't a NASA employee.

When some NASA public-affairs people got miffed, apparently because Ken was taking the initiative on what was supposed to be their turf (in an area -- the network -- where they were doing nothing), they grumbled to LSOC management about it. LSOC people are not covered by KMI 1382.1D, since they're not NASA employees. That means the rules can be different... very different. Ken was told, basically, to shut up or be fired. Never mind that LSOC is supposed to be working for NASA and helping NASA to achieve its goals, which explicitly include public information. LSOC laid down the law. Ken technically couldn't even discuss the space program with his own family without running his words past LSOC Public Affairs first. He certainly couldn't post anything on the net about it -- whether or not he did it on his own time, whether or not everything he said was public knowledge, and whether or not he used any LSOC or NASA resources to do it.

And in the year since... nothing has changed. There was a fuss for a little while, but it has died down. Goldin has told NASA employees to help publicize what NASA is doing, but that still doesn't apply to contractor employees. A few of the NASA public-affairs people are starting to be aware of the net, a little bit, although none of them are making the sort of effort Ken was making to use it. And Ken still can't open his mouth without being fired.


There is a difference between | Henry Spencer cynicism and skepticism. | henry@zoo.toronto.edu