On Thursday morning the Space Transportation Association hosted a breakfast with Mike Coats, director of NASA JSC. Most of his talk focused on work at the center, including workforce and project management issues at the center. He did note, though, a concern about the lack of a NASA administrator and the uncertain future of aspects of the agency’s mission, including Constellation. “The uncertainty is driving folks crazy,” he said. “We don’t know really what the policy is for this new administration regarding space and maybe we’re going to have another change in direction. That uncertainty is causing a lot of concern in the workforce.”
Asked later about what effects this leadership vacuum at NASA headquarters was having on his job, Coats said that acting administrator Chris Scolese was doing a “great job”, but there were limits to what he could so. Scolese, Coats noted, “is reluctant to make anything that might be perceived as policy decisions. And yet it is very hard when you’re running an agency to make a decision that isn’t perceived as policy in some way.” It was time, Coats concluded, for the administration to provide Scolese with some help. “It would help we could have an administrator, a deputy administrator, and some direction, frankly.”
On the use of the NASA funding in the stimulus package, “we’re still talking,” Coats said. “We were hurting badly in ’09 and ’10 on the Orion program” prior to the passage of the stimulus package, he said. If stimulus funding is spent on that program, “that would allow us, if not shorten the gap, at least not to grow it a whole lot.” He did note that JSC was hard at work spending the $50 million in the package for facility repairs, noting that Hurricane Ike caused $90 million in damage to the center. The pace of activity is so high that JSC is borrowing procurement staff from KSC.
In a brief appearance, Congressman John Culberson (R-TX) heaped praise on Coats and his work at JSC, then made a suggestion. “I don’t know if it’s something you’d want to do, but I’d love to see you as our next NASA administrator.”
“Thank you for those kind words,” Coats responded. “Don’t even go there. The grandchildren are in Houston, so that’s where granddad’s going to be.”