Astronaut’s wife to chair space subcommittee

The Democratic leadership of the House Science and Technology Committee announced its subcommittee assignments Thursday. Picked to chair the space and aeronautics subcommittee is Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ). Entering her second term in Congress, Giffords is probably best known in space circles not for her legislative work—she was on the science committee, but not the space subcommittee, in the last Congress—but for her husband: NASA astronaut Mark Kelly. She acknowledges this connection in passing in her own press release announcing her appointment: “My personal experience in learning about the space program gives me a jumpstart,” she said.

Might there be a conflict of interest, though, in a subcommittee chair being married to a highly visible member of the agency the subcommittee has oversight of? A spokesperson for the full committee tells the Orlando Sentinel that Congressman Bart Gordon, committee chairman, is not concerned since Kelly is technically not an NASA employee: he is a Navy officer detailed to NASA. “He works for the Navy, so it’s not a conflict of interest,” the spokesperson explained to the Sentinel.

The other Democrats assigned to the space subcommittee are:

  • Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH)
  • Rep. Parker Griffith (D-AL)
  • Rep. David Wu (D-OR)
  • Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD)
  • Rep. Steven Rothman (D-NJ)
  • Rep. Baron Hill (D-IN)
  • Rep. Charles Wilson (D-OH)
  • Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL)
  • Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL)

Several of these people also have connections to NASA, although these are geographical and not familial in nature. Griffith and Kosmas, both freshmen, represent districts that include Marshall Space Flight Center and Kennedy Space Center respectively; both had previously announced they would be on at least the full committee. Fudge’s Cleveland-area district is close to, but does not include, the Glenn Research Center. Edwards’s serpentine suburban Washington district comes close to the Goddard Space Flight Center. Even Grayson’s central Florida district extends far enough east to perhaps include some people who commute to the Cape.

6 comments to Astronaut’s wife to chair space subcommittee

  • Jim Muncy

    As a space policy consultant with Republican plumage, I don’t see a problem with Rep. Giffords’ Chairmanship.

    There is clearly no financial conflict, since Capt. Kelly’s salary is set as a Navy officer.

    It’s not like he’s going to get a promotion to a non-flight status management job at NASA *because* she’s Chairwoman; he will want to fly again, and the appearance of an oversight conflict (imagine him testifying) could actually make that kind of promotion unlikely.

    If people think she will carry out her duties differently because he’s an astronaut… well, her chairmanship will *benefit* from what she has learned and continues to learn through him. Is she going to be more pro-NASA than someone who represents a NASA Center? I don’t think so.

    Besides, in America we should expect capable women (as well as men) to rise to positions of importance, which sometimes will have overlapping responsibilities with their spouses. Neither person should be unfairly constrained in serving their country to their fullest ability.

    After all, it’s not like our space program is suffering from an overabundance of leadership. ;-)

  • Chance

    While I agree with Mr. Muncy’s comments above, and don’t think it is actually a big deal, the excuse that “…he is a Navy officer detailed to NASA. “He works for the Navy, so it’s not a conflict of interest,”’ is a distinction without a difference, and a pretty bald face one at that.

  • Anon

    Jeff, you may also want to note that, in addition to representing Goddard employees, Congresswoman Edwards once worked at GSFC as a LM contractor.

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