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New Government Travel Restrictions Force AAS to Cancel November Conference

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-Oct-2012
Updated: 11-Oct-2012 05:16 PM

The American Astronautical Society (AAS) announced today that it must cancel its annual National Conference in November because new travel restrictions for government employees caused all of the high level NASA officials who were scheduled to speak at the conference to withdraw.  The decision does not affect next week's AAS Von Braun symposium in Huntsville, AL, which will proceed as scheduled.

AAS President Frank Slazer said in a letter circulated by AAS that the society is not alone in suffering from the absence of government speakers and attendees at its conferences:  "a recent American Meteorological Society conference lost 100 out of 130 NOAA attendees at very short notice," he wrote.   An AAS conference this summer on International Space Station research also had lower than expected government attendance because of the travel restrictions, he noted.

The November conference was scheduled for November 28-29, 2012 in Pasadena, CA in partnership with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and The Planetary Society. 

"Without key NASA and other government speakers and participants, [AAS] leadership made the painful decision to cancel this conference rather than risk the quality of event that we have consistently worked to provide our membership and attendees," Slazer explained.

The AAS Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium scheduled for next week in Huntsville, AL, however, is proceeding as scheduled.

Editor's note:   In the interest of full disclosure, I am Vice President-Public Policy of AAS.   That is not why I make this comment, however.  It is absolutely true that taxpayers' dollars should not be squandered on unnecessary or exorbitant travel, but meetings of professional societies like AAS provide an opportunity for the public -- those very same taxpayers -- to learn about what their tax dollars are enabling, and places for the science and engineering communities to interact, leading to better science and engineering.   These new rules are the result of a single agency, the General Services Administration, losing control of its conference planning process, but everyone is being made to suffer.   One can only hope that a more reasonable set of policies that deal with the actual problem will be put in place in the near future.   The Pasadena conference was really going to be terrific -- and I say that as a space policy analyst, not an AAS official.  What a shame.


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