Who Will Serve as NASA Administrator?
President Obama will speak with Shuttle Discovery astronauts today as they wrap up a series of spacewalks high above. But they still don't have a boss back here on Earth.
"I will soon be appointing a new NASA director," Obama recently told a group of reporters from regional newspapers. "I think it's important for the long term vibrancy of our space program to think through what NASA's core mission is, and what the next great adventures and discoveries are under the NASA banner."
Two weeks since that statement however, there's still no NASA chief and two candidates once believed to be finalists have been tapped for other government jobs: Steve Isakowitz was reappointed chief financial officer at the Energy Department and retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Scott Gration will serve as a special envoy to Sudan.
The retirement of the space shuttle is one of several policy concerns that appear on the Government Accountability Office's "most urgent issues list," and also one of the biggest challenges that will face whomever Obama chooses to fill the administrator position. (Obama has named at least 115 people to positions thus far, but only a few to jobs the GAO considers "critical and time sensitive." The Eye will explore similar vacancies in the coming days, conveying the "shop talk," speculation and analysis on each job.)
Concerned lawmakers wrote to the president last week about the lack of a NASA administrator, stating: "The agency’s work is linked to larger issues facing our country such as national security, climate change and American competitiveness. Currently, NASA faces numerous time-sensitive challenges and needs decisive leadership." (Full letter after the jump.)
The bipartisan group, led by Reps. Suzanne Kosmas (D-Fla.) and Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), is most concerned with the fate of thousands of jobs tied to the space program, especially as the space shuttle retirement nears.
"As you know, this issue is linked to our economic recovery since the gap could result in layoffs for several thousand highly skilled aerospace engineers and technicians over the next two years."
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), a former astronaut, has consulted the White House on the job and has expressed a preference for former astronaut Charlie Bolden, who served as co-pilot on the Jan. 1986 shuttle mission that Nelson flew as a payload specialist.
“Charlie has made life or death calls sitting as the pilot or co-pilot on four shuttle trips," said Nelson's spokesman Dan McLaughlin. "He’s been there and he’s done that.” (There was some speculation early on that Bolden -- who would be the first African American to head the agency -- would be the pick.)
Still, “When you consider that the president has a global economic crisis, bank bailouts and two wars, it doesn’t seem like six weeks is too long a time to go through the process to go through an administrator for NASA," McLaughlin said.
Indeed the White House would not say when Obama will name a new NASA administrator. Whoever it is will have to take into account the sentiments he expressed during that interview with regional reporters:
"I think it's fair to say that there's been a sense of drift to our space program over the last several years. We need to restore that sense of excitement and interest that existed around the space program. And shaping a mission for NASA that is appropriate for the 21st century is going to be one of the biggest tasks of my new NASA director."
Who should Obama pick as NASA administrator? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Dear President Obama:
We write to you as Members of Congress with an abiding interest in the important contributions of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). NASA has been a leading catalyst for innovation and technology development and has enjoyed over 50 years of broad public interest and strong bipartisan political support. The agency’s work is linked to larger issues facing our country such as national security, climate change and American competitiveness. Currently, NASA faces numerous time-sensitive challenges and needs decisive leadership.
One of the most important issues facing NASA and our nation is the impending retirement of the Space Shuttle, and the subsequent five year gap in independent U.S. access to the International Space Station before the Ares 1 and Orion systems can be deployed. This issue has been identified by the Government Accountability Office as one of thirteen ‘urgent’ items for your administration to address. As you know, this issue is linked to our economic recovery since the gap could result in layoffs for several thousand highly skilled aerospace engineers and technicians over the next two years.
We believe it is imperative for NASA to have a leader who understands the implications of a five year or longer hiatus in America’s independent access to space. The new NASA Administrator should grasp the broad strategic and international aspects of NASA’s mission, as well as the technical, budgetary and programmatic tradeoffs that lie ahead. We urge you to keep these issues in mind as you search for a NASA Administrator candidate with the right background, integrity and focus on minimizing the spaceflight gap and preserving the agency’s cutting edge science and aeronautics programs. Maintaining a focused policy and providing the necessary funding to allow NASA to succeed are essential to the technological advances and scientific discoveries that benefit all Americans.
We fully recognize the difficult challenges our nation faces, and we believe that a focused and properly funded NASA can aid our national economy and contribute to our shared goals of sustaining our technological edge and competing on a global stage.
We look forward to working with you and a new Administrator to ensure a robust, successful NASA. We stand ready to work together with you and continue providing the nation’s civilian space and aeronautics agency our steadfast support.
Thank you for your attention to this important issue.
Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL)
Ken Calvert (R-CA)
Robert Aderholt (R-AL)
John Culberson (R-TX)
Al Green (D-TX)
Parker Griffith (D-AL)
Ralph Hall (R-TX)
Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX)
Michael McCaul (R-TX)
Pete Olson (R-TX)
Bill Posey (R-FL)
Adam Schiff (D-CA)
Lamar Smith (R-TX)
Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL)
Source: Office of Rep. Suzanne Kosmas
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