For NASA Administrator, This Mission Is a Tad Personal

Democrats, as would be expected, are lobbying intensely for senior jobs in the new administration. It’s a bit more unusual to see top Bush administration officials lobbying to keep their jobs.

But that appears to be the case with NASA Administrator Mike Griffin.

Just before the election, Griffin sent a letter to Barack Obama saying he was “deeply grateful to you, personally, for your leadership” on the vote to allow NASA’s use of Russian spaceships, the Associated Press reported. And last week NASA sent out priority mail packages, at $6.75 apiece, containing copies of a new agency book titled “Leadership in Space: Selected Speeches of NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, May 2005-October 2008.”

And there’s an online drive, launched by a former NASA official, asking for people to petition Obama to consider keeping Griffin at the agency. Griffin’s wife, Rebecca, e-mailed friends and family asking them to sign the petition.

Griffin’s press secretary, David Mould, told the Associated Press that Griffin isn’t campaigning and expects the incoming president to name a new administrator. But Griffin would be “honored” to be asked to stay on, Mould said. “A lot of people seem to like and support Mike and think he’s doing a good job,” he said.

Hmmm. Somehow we’re thinking that “a lot of people” does not include the president-9elect’s folks.

A Lavish Bathroom at Interior

If Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) is confirmed this month as interior secretary, he’ll have a snappy, scarcely used bathroom in his fifth-floor office, thanks to Dirk Kempthorne, the outgoing secretary.

Seems Kempthorne spent about $235,000 in taxpayer funds renovating the bathroom a few months ago, which included installing a new shower, a refrigerator and a freezer and buying monogrammed towels, department officials told our colleague Derek Kravitz.

The General Services Administration approved and partially funded the project, an Interior Department official said. Kris Kolesnik, an assistant inspector general for external affairs. GSA paid about half the cost to refurbish aging plumbing, which needed to be replaced within four years.

But department officials say much of the money was spent on lavish wood paneling and tile. Among the choice items found in the new bathroom: wainscot wood panels extending from floor to ceiling and cabinet doors revealing a working refrigerator and freezer.

“If Gale Norton needed to shower, at least she was conservative enough to go to the gym in the basement of the building,” one career employee quipped, referring to Kempthorne’s predecessor.

An initial investigation by the department’s inspector general, Earl B. Devaney, found no wrongdoing on the secretary’s part because GSA had approved the project.

Kempthorne, who took office in May 2006 after Norton resigned, declined to comment on the spending, as did his office’s spokesman//per reporter A department spokesman, Shane Wolfe, did not return messages seeking comment.

Incoming Cabinet officials often waste absurd amounts of money redecorating perfectly posh offices to their tastes. Watchdogs generally decry the waste of money. But if the projects are part of the stimulus package .....

Hands Full With Hearings

March Madness is nothing compared with Confirmation Chaos. That’s what’s about to happen in the Senate as committees there, with Jan. 16 as a deadline, try to hold hearings on most, if not all, of President-elect Barack Obama’s Cabinet picks. Not all dates are fixed, but here are some.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has lined up former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle, named to head the Department of Health and Human Services, for a chat Thursday. Rep. Hilda L. Solis (D-Calif.), the nominee for labor secretary, has a date there Friday. And Education Secretary-designate Arne Duncan is on tap for Jan. 13, the same day that Steven Chu, the energy secretary nominee, is before the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

The frenzied schedule for the week beginning Jan. 12 continues as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hears from Secretary of State-designate Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.); Treasury nominee Timothy Geithner may be cuffed about a bit over the stimulus package by the Senate Finance Committee; Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano talks about the Department of Homeland Security with the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

The Environment and Public Works Committee hears from Environmental Protection Agency nominee Lisa P. Jackson on Jan. 14, and the Veterans Affairs Committee hears from Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, the Veteran Affairs nominee, the same day.

Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.), up for interior secretary, is expected to have a smooth ride Jan. 15 from his colleagues on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, but there could be fireworks when Attorney General-designate Eric H. Holder Jr. goes that day before the Judiciary Committee.

Republicans are said to be preparing a hard look at him on issues such as his role in the controversial pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich and his role in the Elian Gonzalez affair.

Unease Over Possible AIDS Pick

Quiet but determined resistance is mounting to the prospect of Nils Daulaire taking over as international HIV/AIDS coordinator in the incoming administration, our colleague Ceci Connolly reports. Daulaire, a physician who will soon finish his stint as president and chief executive of the Global Health Council, is said to be a bit too cozy with the pharmaceutical industry for many in the AIDS and international relief circles.

Most opponents are unwilling to speak publicly — out of fear of upsetting President-elect Barack Obama’s team. But James Love, director of the nonprofit research organization Knowledge Ecology International, said there is concern that Daulaire would not be a strong enough advocate for patients, particularly the poorest of the poor.

Activists also complain that over the years Daulaire has been a weak voice in debates over controversies such as clean needle exchanges and abstinence-only policies.
Steven Sinding, former head of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, said he can understand concerns that Daulaire would focus more on prevention and less on treatment. But Sinding said he thinks Daulaire would strike the right balance. “I know he would do everything in his power to ensure there is no backsliding on treatment,” Sinding said.

Daulaire reportedly interviewed with transition team leader Gayle Smith shortly before Christmas.

Old Faces at ForeignPolicy.com

Foreign Policy, the international affairs magazine acquired by The Washington Post in October, is rebooting its online presence with a host of new features. Our favorite is one called “Shadow Government: Notes from the loyal opposition.”

It’s a daily group blog, founded and edited by Foreign Policy senior editor Christian Brose, a former Condoleezza Rice speechwriter, on which former high-profile conservative foreign policy types assess the new administration’s international strategy. The group will include former Sept. 11 commission executive director Philip Zelikow; ex-senior White House aide Peter Feaver; top Pentagon official Dov Zakheim; Steve Biegun, a foreign policy adviser to Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign; Mitchell Reiss, former secretary of state Colin Powell’s policy planning chief; former Dick Cheney aide Aaron Friedberg; and other top Bush administration aides soon to exit government.

It’s the old team regrouping at ForeignPolicy.com to smack around the new team or, more elegantly, to provide an intellectual assessment of the Obama foreign policy.

There’s also “The Best Defense,” which is our former colleague Tom Ricks’s daily take on national security. Ricks, the best-selling author of “Fiasco,” an extraordinary look at the Bush administration’s war in Iraq, will write a daily blog that examines the fallout from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and contemplates the conflicts of the future.
A must-read site for the foreign policy set.

With Philip Rucker

By Eric Pianin  |  January 5, 2009; 11:45 AM ET
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