Sunday, November 11, 2007

CBS News wants to sensationalize Protect Your Money!

That very same day, NASA also posted an online notice few people saw - seeking four-star hotel bids for its December awards, CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports.

The awards are to honor workers who've contributed to flight safety. But it's not just a low-key dinner for a handful of the best and brightest.

Try five days and four nights at a luxury Florida hotel for 300 honorees and their guest. Fancy receptions and front-row tickets to the most exciting show in the space business, the shuttle launch.

All paid for by your tax dollars. ...

There's a reception to feed 750, with a "carving station with beef and turkey," coconut fried shrimp, spring rolls, shrimp wrapped with bacon, 5-6 desserts, antipasto plates to include assorted meats, cheeses, grilled vegetables and assorted marinated vegetables, breads.
[Emphasis in stupid original.] First off, even the byline is written like it's in a tabloid (I think Sharyl Attkisson may actually be Rita Skeeter). Second off, "shrimp wrapped with bacon"? "5-6 desserts"? "Assorted marinated vegetables"? Mon dieu! Where's Henry Waxman and his oversight committee when you need him?

I don't have the energy to really pick apart the stupidity of this story (except to say that the article reads an awful lot more like something you'd see coming out of a small-town affiliate than out of the network itself), so I'll toss it to this great Slashdot commenter (a NASA employee who has actually won the award in question), who does a pretty effective job of explaining why CBS is wrong:
They also made it out like some extravagant party - it really isn't. They pay for the flight (you have to cover your spouse, though), get you a hotel at the Day's Inn Cocoa Beach (or similar) for a few days, they drive you around on a tour, and feed you a few nice meals and let you meet some astronauts and agency officials.

While you may have some negative opinions about how well NASA is doing as an agency, we've got a lot of really outstanding line employees who do great work, and in any enterprise you need to reward that. When I got my SFA, I was 28 years old and had spent a year of 60+ hour weeks getting an avionics package on the Space Station working. I didn't get paid overtime for that...the SFA was a nice token from my management. Another guy on the trip won his for finding a problem that saved the government $12 million dollars. As a percentage of the overall workforce, very few people ever win this award (where I work, maybe 1 out of 50 has gotten this in the last 10 years, you have to do something exceptional). It's definitely worth the tax dollars that are spent on it - and I hope other federal agencies are using my tax dollars in similar ways.
Couldn't agree more.

As a bonus, here's a list of words in the CBS article that piss me off:
  • Luxury (thrice!)
  • Extravagant (also thrice! Once by crazy Tom Coburn, the absolute best possible person to go to for a quote for a story like this [Sharyl Attkisson presumably has him on speed dial])
  • Posh
  • Budget Blunder
  • Fancy
  • Frivolous

    To quote another Slashdot commenter, this is not about fiscal responsibility; this is about "look at those guys that have a great big party and you don't! They used your money for it!"

    Also, here's a quick hit from the end of the article that doesn't make much sense:
    What is the cost? Counting the reception ($64,000), dinner ($35,000), awards ($28,000), ground transportation (tour: $7,700; launch: $20,200), airfare ($105,000), hotel and food ($135,000 together), you’re talking $400,000 to $500,000.

    If you think that's pricey, consider this: the NASA holds its big awards every time there's a shuttle launch. December's extravaganza will be the third one in 2007. Honoring all those people is costing you about $4 million a year.
    For the record, I don't think "that's pricey." And I would be fine with spending $4 million a year to honor "all those people" (which accounts for something like one or two percent of the tens of thousands of people who work on the Shuttle program). But $500,000, three times a year, does not equal $4 million. I'm sure of it.

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