Business as usual at NASA two weeks into new administration

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WASHINGTON — Two weeks into the administration of President Donald Trump, NASA’s acting administrator said there have yet to be any major changes to the agency’s activities or any indication of when such changes might come.

In a Feb. 3 memo to NASA employees, Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot said that the agency was continuing to carry out its various programs as supported by a continuing resolution, a spending bill that funds NASA and other federal offices at 2016 levels through April.

“At this point, there has been no new guidance on any of our current work, despite what you might have heard being speculated,” Lightfoot wrote in the memo. “We are executing the missions as defined under the current Continuing Resolution.”

One policy change that has affected NASA and other agencies is a hiring freeze. President Trump issued that freeze Jan. 23, which prevents agencies from filling open civilian positions without an exemption from the Office of Personnel Management. The hiring freeze is intended as a short-term measure until the administration develops a long-term plan for reducing the size of the federal workforce.

How that hiring freeze will affect NASA activities remains unclear. Lightfoot, in his memo, said that NASA’s office of human capital management was working with NASA’s field centers on specific guidance, but offered no additional details.

Lightfoot emphasized that the transition to the Trump administration was going well, as the “landing team” of transition personnel is replaced by an initial “beachhead team” of presidential appointees, some of whom also served on the landing team.

“We are working with the presidential appointees to integrate the new folks into our team. They are extremely engaged and to a person excited to be part of this great Agency,” Lightfoot wrote. “This team is genuinely interested in maintaining a smooth transition and are working with us to ensure as such.”

Lightfoot, who as associate administrator was the top civil servant at NASA, became acting administrator Jan. 20 when former administrator Charles Bolden and deputy administrator Dava Newman departed the agency at the end of the Obama administration. The Trump administration has yet to nominate a new administrator, despite months of speculation about who might be considered for the job.

“Also, since I have been asked a lot, there is no news on the next Administrator. I know the new administration is working it along with the many other positions,” Lightfoot wrote.