Congress, NASA, White House

Is NASA really at a disadvantage?

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.

20 comments to Is NASA really at a disadvantage?

  • No one has been named to replace Tony Tether at DARPA, either.

  • It’s too bad that there Senator Menendez doesn’t have any credential-related objections to Holdren. I hope that someone does, and at least brings up his neo-Malthusianism in hearings.

  • Jeff Foust

    Rand: in Holdren’s confirmation hearing last month (as previously discussed here), one senator (Vitter, I believe) did bring up some “neo-Malthusian” papers authored or co-authored by Holdren, most of which dating back to the early 1970s. I don’t think those papers, or Holdren’s responses to questions about them, swayed anyone’s minds at the hearing.

  • Charles in Houston

    Not everyone can smoothly work “neo-Malthusianism” into a conversation.

  • Ferris Valyn

    Just to add,

    We are still waiting on an FAA administrator, and a Director for the Office of Space Commercialization.

  • Not everyone can smoothly work “neo-Malthusianism” into a conversation.

    Hey, if the word fits. It’s just part of the Democrats’ war on science. But I guess wars on science are only a problem when Republicans wage them… ;-)

  • Drew

    It’s just part of the Democrats’ war on science.

    That’s hilarious. Made my day.

    But I guess since the Republicans largely lost their war on science, or at least are in full retreat (where’s Rush blowing hot CO2 when they need him?), someone has to get saddled with the responsibility for looking like they have one. Fortunately, few scientists feel threatened by lame exaggeration, so it’s not a problem at all.

  • SpaceMan

    It’s just part of the Democrats’ war on science

    Jeeze Simberg, you really, really ought to attempt speaking out of the correct end of your alimentary canal sometime. You know, like the rest of us do.

    Maybe someday you will actually get a clue. Almost unbelievable, but not quite.

  • anonymous

    “t’s just part of the Democrats’ war on science”

    What is so clever about this, is how the Obama administration
    does things like put Nobel Prize Winning scientists into Cabinet
    posts.

    Imagine the cleverness of conducting a war on science, using
    Real scientists. I imagine their first target is destroying Creation
    Science, and then Faith Based Science.

  • Drew

    No, you can’t manage science responsibly with scientists. You need some REALLY astute managers, like those on Wall Street and in the banking industry. Or maybe even those visionary leaders from the US automotive industry. Well, gee, they’re probably looking for jobs anyway, no?

    It’s easy. You just put ‘em in there, and then declare “mission accomplished”. Now, a real scientist would never be able to pull that off. Such real scientists would just keep finding more problems, and we simply can’t tolerate that!

    The Republican national defense strategy with regard to problems revealed by science has been protection by denial. That’s the party line. It’s a shame that party leaders actually take pride in this. Fortunately, most voters can see right through it.

  • BillF

    Hellooo Drew and the other lefties commenting on Rand Simberg’s “Democrat’s war on science comment”… so Obama appoints for his science advisor someone who is an adherent to “limits to growth”… who, I am sure thought that there would be food riots going on by now. The Obama administration is driven by an almost religious belief in human induced global warming. I am sure there is an open and honest debate going on with administration officials about whether the modest amount of global warming is human induced or natural causes. Sure there is. Last time I checked being open to debate and a presentation of an alternative model is vital to the scientific method. So, yeah, I think that science comes second to political ideology in the Obama administration

  • Drew

    Science comes after political ideology in ANY administration. Get over it.
    The question here is whether it comes last.

  • anonymous

    I dont know about Drew, But I was commenting that
    Obama selected Steve Chu, a nobel prize winning scientist
    to run the Energy Department.

    I don’t recall Bush appointing any nobelists to any departments
    let alone to the Cabinet.

  • Scientists, whether Nobel winners or not, are not necessarily good technologists (hint: DoE isn’t a “scientific” agency) nor are they necessarily good administrators or department heads. Having a Nobel prize is neither a necessary or sufficient condition for a cabinet job.

  • Doug Lassiter

    Chu’s capacity for the Secretary of Energy cabinet job is his marked by his several year directorship of the Lawrence Berkeley Lab (run by DOE, giving him key insights into that agency). LBL is one of the strongest cutting-edge technology powerhouses in the nation. As it turns out, his understanding of the needs for and process of technology development is superb, and his leadership of LBL reflects that. He grew important technology initiatives while there (e.g. nanofab). A Nobel Prize is a big honor, reflecting huge scientific prowess, but it’s correct that such an honor doesn’t, in itself, translate to administrative ability. Chu clearly has both.

    From this standpoint, NASA really is at a disadvantage. Energy is being led by someone who knows his stuff, knows the needs, and has intellectual capacity and credibility, as well as political acumen and leadership skills to make good stuff happen. NASA is not only without a leader, but with loads of second tier leaders jumping ship, is hardly in a position to have good stuff happen. Sadly, they’re just on autopilot right now, heading in the direction that a long gone finger used to be pointing.

  • [...] Is NASA really at a disadvantage? – Space Politics [...]

  • I’ll weigh in with a few comments about scientists as administrators. Some scientists are clearly poor picks for leadership positions. I won’t mention the group — friends might know which one — but when I worked at Goddard the civil servant in charge of the group was an abusive bully who surrounded himself with sycophants. The group had huge problems because of this. Problems were blamed on people low in the hierarchy or on outsiders. People outside the group in question did not see things in the same way.

    There is, however, a healthy example I can cite — Nobel Prize winning physicist John Mather. I asked a friend who worked in John’s group to describe John without using the words “brilliant physicist.” He smiled and told me that Mather was a really nice guy who listened to people, freely gave credit to others’ work, was eager to help and was, in general, a real Boy Scout. I’ve written a bit more about him in my blog posting A New, Improved Carl Sagan.

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  • [...] Senator could put a hold on the nomination for any reason, even completely unrelated to the job, as what happened to John Holdren and Jane Lubchenco, OSTP director and NOAA administrator nominees, earlier this year. That suggests that it might be early summer at the earliest before a new [...]

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