Congress, NASA, White House

Ready for change?

ares-obamicon

President Obama’s first official interaction with NASA appeared to be a success: he was seen smiling as the NASA entry in the inaugural parade, featuring the SS-126 crew and a lunar rover prototype, passed by. Of course, he could have simply been happy that the parade had finally come to an end, since NASA was at the tail end of the long parade. Now, though, work turns more serious as much of the space industry is on tenterhooks about exactly what sort of change the new administration will bring to NASA. What sort of things should people be looking for in the days and weeks to come?

Who will be administrator—and his deputy. Most of the speculation in the last several weeks has focused on who will replace Mike Griffin as NASA administrator. For the last week that speculation has centered around retired Air Force major general Jonathan Scott Gration, although an announcement that once seemed imminent has been delayed, perhaps because of objections by Sen. Bill Nelson. Eventually, though, either Gration or someone else will be formally nominated. What will then be interesting is who the administration nominates to be the deputy administrator. Presumably this will be someone who will complement the administrator: someone will considerable NASA or other space experience if an outsider like Gration is nominated, for example.

How the administration will address NASA’s budget. Conventional wisdom is that the new administration won’t be able to put its mark on the agency until the FY2011 budget proposal, given that it’s very late in the cycle for preparing the FY2010 budget. However, the appropriations process has become warped in recent years, with spending bills being delayed well into the fiscal year, or even abandoned in favor of year-long continuing resolutions, as happed for FY2007. That’s the case for FY2009, as much of the federal government, including NASA, is operating under a continuing resolution that expires in March. That suggests there’s more latitude for the administration to make more changes earlier than conventional wisdom suggests—if they so desire.

Another factor that could accelerate change is the new stimulus bill working its way through Congress. For spaceflight advocates, the news isn’t encouraging: the bill includes $600 million for NASA, but for earth sciences, aeronautics, and facilities work, and not for shuttle, Constellation, or related programs. There is an effort to get more money for NASA, specifically for Constellation, but NASA isn’t the only agency looking for more funding.

How, and how quickly, the administration will implement the campaign’s space policy. There are people out there who doubtless hope that new administration will move quickly to reform or even jettison Constellation, or at least Ares 1. Any major changes to the Constellation architecture, though, likely would take time to implement, and also require coordination with Congress, particularly among current advocates of the exploration architecture. The same is true for other elements of the policy, particularly those that require new appropriations or other Congressional consultation.

Some elements, though, could be implemented fairly quickly. One example is the proposal to re-create the National Aeronautics and Space Council to coordinate space policy throughout the federal government. One thing to watch for is when the administration does establish the council and how it’s set up, in particular what authority it’s given to carry out its mandate.

What other relatively near-term issues should people be on the lookout for in the early days and weeks of the Obama Administration?

15 comments to Ready for change?

  • red

    “What other relatively near-term issues should people be on the lookout for in the early days and weeks of the Obama Administration?”

    How about the Space Shuttle retirement? (not that I think it should be kept, but there’s pressure for a quick decision)

    I’d also expect other parts of the Obama space policy and other policies to get attention, such as Aeronautics, Earth Sciences, and facilities (eg: energy efficiency). The $600M could be just a start in those directions.

  • How about funding and appointing a director for the Office of Space Commercialization

  • Ferris’ suggestion is on the right track. One issue with the current constellation plan is the lack of options, an issue that has plagued NASA for generations. You only have the resources to build either rocket A or rocket B. Commercialization gives us the opportunity to pick from rockets C, et al, at least for smaller missions. That cuts costs for NASA, unties the agency’s hands, opens the doors for a wider range of ideas, and gives us a backup if NASA’s plan A fails. If, as I hope, the industry matures beyond small to heavy class rockets into the superheavy phase, perhaps they can someday offer a full spectrum.

    While I’m a huge private space proponent, I don’t feel it is the be all end all solution, at least not now. Perhaps someday it will be and NASA will switch to a mission focus and buy launch services from private organizations. But even the brightest rose colored glasses can’t bring me to the conclusion that that will happen anytime real soon. But there is serious value on diversifying the development base, at least on the smaller scale.

  • Charles in Houston

    President Obama was not smiling at the NASA buggy – he was just glad to see the end of the parade!

    One thing he will NOT do is cut the overlapping layers of managers. All of whom think that their comments are the most important.

    In fact he seems to be adding additional layers – with people appointed to reveiw the government for overlap. The first positions they should eliminate are theirs!

    Charles

  • Chuck2200

    Charles in Houston wrote: “In fact he seems to be adding additional layers – with people appointed to review the government for overlap. The first positions they should eliminate are theirs!

    I think it’s a wise move. The new appointees have a finite amount of time to make recommendations and then their mandates, and their jobs, dissolve. One cannot expect to go to the existing overlapped layers and ask them “which of you should be cut?”. That’d be a total waste of time. So long as the temporary examiners do their job well, make their recommendations and then go away, they will have left the President with the data he needs to take a scalpel to the agency.

  • Al Fansome

    TERENCE CLARK: Perhaps someday it will be and NASA will switch to a mission focus and buy launch services from private organizations. But even the brightest rose colored glasses can’t bring me to the conclusion that that will happen anytime real soon.

    What do you call the multi-billion-dollar purchase of ISS cargo delivery services?

    This is happening now, and we may be close to tipping point for “someday” to happen in a much larger measure.

    While I’m a huge private space proponent, I don’t feel it is the be all end all solution, at least not now.

    What do you mean by “be all end all solution”?

    I am not sure what your concern is when you this.

    We could do a LOT more private space, without it becoming the “be all end all”.

    An expanded use of private space services can become a “Win Win” for both NASA and the private space industry. If you add the American taxpayers as a player (who care about growing good jobs), think of it as a “Win Win Win”.

    FWIW,

    - Al

  • SpaceMan

    President Obama was not smiling at the NASA buggy – he was just glad to see the end of the parade!

    I won`t attempt to guess what the man was thinking at that point (notice he was busy much of the time talking with the parade of high hats behind him) but I will take a guess at what the First Lady was thinking. If you watch a rerun of that piece of the parade what you will see as the rover approaches the reviewing stand is the First Lady focus on the rover (show interest) and then mouth the word “Wow” as the rover demonstrates what it is designed to do. Don`t forget that “behind every successful man stands a woman” and having the First Lady be impressed by what an agency is doing is no small thing.

    Having an astronaut dismount, take Old Glory and move out in the direction of march was outstanding symbolism as well. Great move on the part of the NASA folks.

    We shall see…

  • A top issue for the aerospace industry — and tech industry in general — is workforce development. Not enough young people are entering tech fields to sustain the industry in the future. Somewhat related to that problem is the need for cultural reform within NASA. The Columbia Accident Investigation Board strongly criticized the agency for not listening to staff and for not being a learning organization.

    I’ve written a policy paper on these topics titled Aerospace Workforce Issues. While I wrote it for the Clinton campaign, I think the new Obama administration would find it perhaps more valuable given Obama’s inaugural address emphasis on finding real solutions to real problems.

  • Doug Lassiter

    Pretty clearly, space enthusiasts should be on the lookout for some early message from the new administration about the future of NASA and space science and exploration. It doesn’t need to be a Vision, and it doesn’t need to be elaborate, but it needs to be more specific than the campaign policy statements which are understandably handwaving.

    One would like to believe that a White House that prides itself on openness and transparency, valuing communication and participation, would provide some early inkling of even a general level of commitment to space.

    Right now, we’ve been through months of rumor and innuendo about the next NASA administrator (it even took a message from the last administrator to reveal that he wasn’t going to be the next one — thanks Mike!), and the blogosphere is rich with reads on likely presidential policy based on facial expressions and body language at the inaugural parade. Get real guys. Facial expressions and body language aren’t worth the time to post about them. The rover is an early concept that may or may not even happen, and while certainly “cool”, was an embarrassing token of an agency that can’t seem to come up with anything real to show.

    By the way, it isn’t as if even the naming of an administrator would clearly answer these questions, as one might surmise by the rumors about Gration and his unidentifiable connections to space. It’s going to take more than that.

  • I think the new Obama administration would find it perhaps more valuable given Obama’s inaugural address emphasis on finding real solutions to real problems.

    Good luck with that, Chuck…

  • DaveP

    If Bill Nelson is becoming a hindrance to President Obama, he should just have a quiet word with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and let it be known that it might be time that his continued Chairmanship of his committee might actually need a review this year.

    Dangle his career in front of his eyes and just watch how quickly he’ll confirm Gration then.

  • [...] Ready for change? – Space PoliticsLast in Line – Space Diary/Discovery News – Jan.20.09Interim NASA Chief Takes Charge Until Obama [...]

  • Obama cannot afford to piss-off Martinez, Nelson and the FL delegation from and surrounding Brevard County, which also includes Lake and Orange counties (Orlando), which also feeds into the I-4 Corridor. Unless you’ve lived and worked in FL, it’s hard to appreciate just how huge us the Space issue. And that Congressional delegation is very unified in its support for Space.

    During the election against Feeny, Kosmas didn’t run any ads that I can remember on Space. She talked about healthcare, bringing the troops home, and so on. But her tune has changed because she knows that in the next contest, one where she will face a strong candidate, unlike Feeny, Brevard will matter, so she needs to be on the right side of Space.

    The idea of Majority Leader Reid reigning in Nelson is laughable. Nelson got Florida for President Obama and its bundle of electoral points by pounding into then candidate Obama that to win FL means turning away from his anti-Space stance and towards a pro-Space one. President Obama has enough headaches right now, so if Nelson doesn’t want Gration, then that’s that.

    It is heartening to read that selecting the NASA Administrator rests not with the the Transition Team but with President Obama’s WH staff. As silly as Mike’s conduct might have been, the Obama NASA Transition teams conduct was worse; transition teams are not supposed to get criticized in Time magazine. Rather, they are supposed to work quietly in the background.

  • [...] en bas de page – lien direct (320 Mo – MP4) Commentaires associés CollectSpace – Space Politics – [...]

Leave a Reply

  

  

  

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>