A Florida Today article reports on a hearing by the Commerce, Justice, and Science subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee on “The Place of NASA & NSF in the Overall Science Enterprise” (a hearing that, unfortunately, was neither webcast nor summarized by the subcommittee). At the hearing, Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA) argued that a lack of a permanent administrator was hurting NASA in budget talks. The administration is making major budget decisions for the agency and “NASA needs to be at the table when these decisions are being made,” Wolf is quoted as saying.
If NASA was the only agency without confirmed new leadership (and if that leadership was really effective in negotiating budgets with the White House, a completely different issue), Wolf might have a point. However, many other federal agencies are at a similar disadvantage. As a front-page article in Wednesday’s Washington Post notes, intensified vetting and other delays have kept many appointees from being confirmed for various posts, with just 28 of 71 people “tapped” for positions having been confirmed, meaning that there are a lot of people in limbo, let alone those open positions like NASA administrator who yet to have a nominee. And nominations can be held up for reasons having nothing to do with the nominees themselves: the Post reported earlier this week that the nominations of OSTP director John Holdren and NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco had been put on hold by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) “as leverage to get Senate leaders’ attention for a matter related to Cuba rather than questioning the nominees’ credentials”.
This also suggests that even if the Obama Administration nominated someone to be NASA administrator today, he or she would not be in office for some time: the Post article on the nomination delays stated that the average time from nomination to confirmation was 65 days. If the NASA administrator position hewed to that average, that would mean the administrator would not be in place until early May, well after the complete FY10 budget submission makes its way to Congress. However, NASA won’t be the only agency in the same situation.