NASA research helps steward world’s water resources

On Thursday I joined Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other Administration officials to announce NASA’s participation in a new U.S. Water Partnership as we mark World Water Day.

The U.S. Water Partnership is bringing public and private groups together to search for solutions to the challenges of accessing global water, particularly in the developing world. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence also released a report outlining some of these challenges in the Global Water Security Intelligence Community Assessment.

NASA’s Earth observation research capabilities in space provide a variety of resources, ingenuity and new knowledge to tackle the global water challenge.

The conservation and purification of water is an important byproduct of NASA’s scientific and human space flight missions. Commercial application of the techniques that we have studied will allow for quick and affordable purification of any available water source. This is helping mitigate water shortages and access issues here on Earth. Click here to learn more about NASA’s water purification technology.

For more information about how NASA’s research impacts world efforts to steward water resources, check out this feature.

NASA’s FOIA Program Gets High Marks

Last week, NASA received one of the highest grades in government when the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee awarded the agency an A- for its ability to track and respond to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests from the public. Since being signed into law in 1966, FOIA has been an essential part of our nation’s commitment to government transparency. The act allows the public access to non-exempt government documents through submission of written requests. We at NASA work for the U.S. taxpayer, and as the nation’s civilian space agency, it is important that we be as open and available to public inquiries as possible.

When he took office in 2009, President Obama reinforced that commitment by issuing a memorandum to the heads of all government agencies, directing them to “renew their commitment to the principles embodied in FOIA, and to usher in a new era of open Government.” Each year, NASA receives about 1200 FOIA requests from citizens, including students, media outlets and others who are interested in some aspect of our work. We have always made an effort to respond to these requests in a timely and thorough manner. But three years ago, NASA had a huge backlog of FOIA requests. When Administrator Charles Bolden and I assumed leadership of the agency in 2009, we made communicating as openly as possible with the media and public and reducing that backlog one of our top priorities. And we have made outstanding progress.

In 2010, we hired a new Principal Agency FOIA officer, Miriam Brown-Lam. Since then, she and her team of FOIA officers and staff from our Centers across the country, have made significant business and process improvements to make our program more citizen-centric and user-friendly. As a result, we have been able to reduce our backlog of FOIA requests from 110 in 2010 to 34 last year – a reduction of 60 percent. NASA’s FOIA team continues to work to improve timeliness in responding to requests. They are required to undergo annual training to stay abreast of the latest developments, which has shown to be a value-added investment for the Agency. Because of this renewed commitment to service, accountability and excellence, Miriam tells me NASA is on track to have only a 10 percent backlog rate this year – a phenomenal achievement.

I want to congratulate Miriam Brown-Lam and NASA’s entire FOIA team for the A- we received on the House Oversight Committee report card and for their continued efforts to ensure that NASA is one of the most transparent and accountable agencies in government.

Women's History Month

March is Women’s History Month, and I encourage everyone to celebrate this year’s theme “Women’s Education ­– Women’s Empowerment” by recognizing the many accomplishments of women at NASA and throughout history.

It’s been my pleasure this year as part of NASA’s celebrations to kick off a new round of video interviews at on the popular Women@NASA website. It showcases women from diverse backgrounds with careers at NASA, telling their stories in their own words. Featured women include astronauts, engineers, scientists and administrators. They discuss their accomplishments and offer encouragement to women and girls considering technical careers to become the trailblazers of tomorrow. The website also provides information about NASA internships and career opportunities.

I also was able to participate in an important day-long conversation at George Washington University about the critical role that women play in innovation at NASA, and how we can increase our numbers and impact throughout government and the aerospace industry. I am proud of the fact that NASA is one of the largest federal employers of women in the STEM fields.

However, much work remains to be done.

While the percentage of women in the engineering field at NASA has increased substantially over the past ten years, they still only comprise 20 percent of our engineering workforce and 22 percent of our AST (science and technology) workforce. I am so proud of the outstanding achievements of our workforce, and I commend you on your efforts to promote means by which we can have NASA be as diverse in gender, ethnicity, and background as this great country of ours. A diverse workforce will create a wide variety of ideas, pushing forward innovation and making NASA better than ever. Equal representation of women in the key science, technology, engineering, and math fields will be critical to developing tomorrow’s exploration leaders.

One of our top priorities in education is to encourage women and girls to follow STEM career paths, and that’s one reason we’re so proud NASA is represented on the White House Council for Women and Girls. As part of our involvement with the Council, the Women@NASA website was created as a personal testament to the strength and hard work that so many women have poured into NASA, and to show girls everywhere that women have come from diverse backgrounds and overcome many obstacles to achieve rewarding careers.

As NASA and some other government agencies update their workplace flexibility policies for the 21st century, we will keep women’s needs strongly in mind. There is still a long way to go for women to achieve full parity in the workplace, but in the NASA Family, equality, diversity, and innovation are greatly valued and we will continue to make progress.

Please join me in celebrating Women’s History Month by uncovering and sharing the stories of the women in your life.