One of the issues that has come up in the consideration of former astronaut Charles Bolden as a potential NASA administrator was his work as a lobbyist for ATK. “It’s something that should be aired and discussed. I don’t know if it is a detraction or not, but it’s something the public should be aware of,” Victoria Sampson of the Secure World Foundation told the Huntsville Times earlier this week. Similarly, ScienceInsider, the science policy blog run by the AAAS, suggested yesterday that “Bolden’s past as a lobbyist for ATK… is raising concerns about a possible conflict with Obama’s ethics policy.”
So what is Bolden’s past as a lobbyist? It’s pretty short and uneventful, as it turns out. According to Congress’s lobbying database, Bolden registered as a lobbyist for ATK effective June 1, 2005, although the document wasn’t filed with the Senate until July 29. According to a mid-year report filed with the Senate on September 1, Bolden had received less than $10,000 of income for that work through the end of June. According to the original registration statement, Bolden was hired to assist ATK in an “Education Campaign on the design considerations of the next generation NASA launch vehicles, in particular the Shuttle-Derived concepts” by meeting with members of Congress.
A final document from ATK indicates that Bolden terminated his contract with ATK on September 15, 2005 and asked that Bolden be removed from the Congressional lobbying list, although it wasn’t filed with the Senate until nearly a year later. More interesting is the letter attached on the second page of that final filing from Bolden. “I was employed as a consultant to ATK for several months in 2005 and they improperly reported me as a lobbyist for them,” he states. “They subsequently sent a letter to the Senate Office of Public records [sic] requesting that I be removed from the Congressional lobbying list (enclosure).”
So Bolden was a registered lobbyist for ATK for a few months, recorded less than $10,000 in income, and eventually stated that the lobbyist registration was a mistake. Should this be an obstacle to a potential NASA administrator nomination? It does not run afoul of the White House’s executive order issued just after President Obama took office, which has only a two-year statue of limitations on lobbying activity. (It also, strictly speaking, refers only to “appointees”, not “nominees” for positions that require Senate confirmation.) If there are reasons why Bolden should not be NASA administrator, this, it seems, should not be one of them.