Communications 101 for OSTP


Message to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) from your friendly neighborhood communication advisor: If you invite people to participate in a telecon, please make sure that everyone you’ve invited is able to connect to it before you begin your discussion.

PS: This step is especially important if you are holding the telecon to deliver an important message and asking participants to help you spread it.

On August 6, OSTP tweeted, “Join POTUS Science Advisor in conference call to discuss sequestration effects on science, technology, and innovation.” I received an email announcement about the call as well, and I registered online to participate. I received two email confirmations of the call. Nonetheless, when I called in at 2 pm, ATT’s conference call system could not connect me to the call. I redialed repeatedly and got cut off repeatedly. By the time I connect to the call, it was 2:15 and OSTP director John Holdren had finished his spiel.

For reasons I don’t understand, OSTP deemed the call “off the record.” Why would a White House intent on delivering and spreading a message deem a discussion about it off the record? Especially a White House dedicated to advancing transparency, openness, and participation in government? Thoughts?

In any case, you might be able to guess what OSTP’s message was, even without the benefit of having heard Holdren state it:

Sequestration bad. Sequestration bad for science, technology, and innovation.

And speaking of federal spending for science, astute science blogger Phil Plait (@Badastronomy), responded to President Obama’s congratulatory statement on the Mars Science Laboratory landing by tweeting, “So can we have that $300 million back now, please?” He was referring to the $300 million that the White House cut from NASA’s most recent budget request for its Mars Exploration Program.

There’s no getting it back, of course. When dollars are cut from a budget request, it means that the dollars aren’t there. The situation is not akin to a parent stashing a child’s favorite toy until the child decides to behave. The $300 million cut from the budget request was not stowed away in some special Mars piggybank. This persistent sense of entitlement in the space science community (see my February 29 post) is not especially useful in the current political environment. The U.S. government spends $18 billion a year on its civilian space program. Given the steady socioeconomic devolution of the middle and working classes, not to mention other major socioeconomic problems facing the nation due to eight years of reckless spending preceding Obama’s election, this seems enough to me….


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