White House

NASA administrator lobbying effectiveness?

A colleague asked yesterday what someone could do to support the candidacy of a particular person for NASA administrator. (The topic had apparently come up on a mailing list he was on.) The only suggestion that came to mind was to call the White House comments line (202-456-1111) and tell them who the President should nominate for the position. Emailing the White House is another option, but likely far less effective: can you imagine how much spam president@whitehouse.gov gets?

I would be curious to get some expert opinions on alternatives that might be more effective, or whether any such efforts would likely be ineffective or even counterproductive.

10 comments to NASA administrator lobbying effectiveness?

  • Neil Halelamien

    The only thing I can think of is using the media, letters to the editor, etc. to increase public awareness of certain candidates.

  • Yup. A blog campaign might have an effect (but it could also backfire…), but I’m not sure there’s enough widespread interest in the issue to generate one.

  • I asked a noted space lobbyist and he said that the White House doesn’t usually appreciate grass roots pressure on behalf of potential nominees. But if a Worden nomination is announced, then our grass roots machines should get into gear.

  • Mark


    I’m confused. What good would a grass roots effort do if Worden (or whomever one wants) gets nominated? Wouldn’t the goal of a grass roots effort be the nomination itself? Am I misunderstanding the terminology?

  • NASA Administrator is a figure-head. President and his political and national security advisors set space agenda. Cabinet Secretaries are salespeople for products that they didn’t design. Bush is the important thing regarding space policy for the next 4 years (and that policy is seriously looking up, given his proclivities for aerospace and star wars and the success of ShapeShipOne ); Bush could put a sumo wrestler in charge of NASA and it would still work the same. The President’s agenda always overrides everything else

  • Worden would face a tough battle in the Senate for confirmation. That would be the right time to weigh in.

  • Hello, Chris,

    Probably fortunately, I do not think you are right. The President of the United States is like the Emporer of Rome, only more so. He is ultimately responsible for many thousands of decisions, many of them vital, that must be made each and every day, almost all of which must be decided on inadequate information. If he is a good president, he must worry daily about life-and-death issues domestic as well as and forign. He is, or should be, interested in a terratory that, depending on how you look at it, ranges up to and including all of cis-Lunar space. Because of time constraints alone, he pretty much stays in Washington and relies on the eyes and ears of others. A President may set the tone of an Administration, but of necessity, almost all of the explicit decisions are delegated to others.

    O’Keefe is a great example. Mr. Bush may have concurred, but it was O’Keefe and a few others who set the take full responsibility and accept all criticism tone of the responce to Columbia. (In fact, these are attitudes that, in general, I find pretty hard to associate with this administration, who seems prepared to point anywhere but in the mirror for, say, laying the responsibility for the torture by American soldiers in Iraq. Whatever happened to “the buck stops here”?) I do not intend it as cricism when I say that I suspect that much of the content of the Moon-Mars initiative was approved by Mr. O’Keefe and the Mr. Bush had (and has) only the most faint knowledge of it.

    The upshot is that it is vitally important who the next Administrator will be. I sincerely hope that it is someone largely indestinguishable from Mr. O’Keefe.

    — Donald

  • John Malkin

    O’Keefe did take full responsibility and was willing to step down if congress had asked him too. Congress could have also asked the true people found responsible for causing the accident in the CAIB report which included the Congress itself. However specific people were responsible for not doing there job but most related back to the general culture that was allowed to develop at NASA. The administrator is simply a paper pusher/public relation representative and the managers of the different programs are the true people with the responsibility for a project outcome including Shuttle. O’Keefe has many values I would like to see in a new Administrator. I do hope the new administrator will be willing to take chances on new ideas and including private entrepreneurial companies not just the big guys. The new administrator should have R&D experience since it’s very difficult to manage time and money with R&D.

  • Anonymous

    White Houses are usually protective of their personnel processes. They don’t want public discussion of candidates, in part to protect the candidates themselves, and in part to strengthen the mandate of the eventual nominee.

    If you have an opinion about who should be NASA Administrator, that would be best shared with a Member of Congress — particularly if a Senior Republican Senator represents you. Otherwise, the most useful thing an average activist can do is contribute to the public discussion by stressing what the requirements for the next NASA Administrator are, in your opinion.

    For example, you may want to stress that any candidate must have expertise in actually running transformational space projects. Or in promoting public-private partnerships (aka space commercialization). Assuming you are generally supportive of human space exploration & President Bush’s vision, you might stress the need for someone who “gets” the vision, and can crack a few eggs to produce the omelette of its realization.

    In other words, it’s not helpful to engage in personality discussions in public. It is helpful to make a substantive case for the right person, w/o using that person’s name.

  • Steve Brown

    We need another Webb:

    James E. Webb, NASA Administrator, February 14, 1961 – October 7, 1968

    For seven years after President Kennedy’s May 25, 1961, lunar landing announcement, through October 1968, James Webb politicked, coaxed, cajoled, and maneuvered for NASA in Washington. As a longtime Washington insider he was a master at bureaucratic politics. In the end, through a variety of methods Administrator Webb built a seamless web of political liaisons that brought continued support for and resources to accomplish the Apollo Moon landing on the schedule President Kennedy had announced.