Trump White House adds a former NASA deputy to the mix

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WASHINGTON — Among the new people trickling into NASA Headquarters during the Trump administration’s first Washington work week is a familiar face: former NASA deputy administrator Shana Dale.

According to Washington sources, Dale is on a four-month loan from the Federal Aviation Administration, where she’s served as deputy associate administrator of the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation since late 2014. FAA spokesman Hank Price did not respond to a request for comment.

Officially, Dale is participating in a commercial space study. But sources say she’s poised to join the so-called “beachhead team” of Trump political appointees installed at NASA headquarters to continue the work begun by the post-election “landing team” led by Chris Shank, former NASA’s Administrator Mike Griffin’s right-hand man.

NASA spokesman Bob Jacobs said Jan. 25 that beachhead team members “are still being processed.”

Dale served as NASA deputy administrator under Griffin from 2005 to 2009. In between her stint at NASA and joining the FAA, Dale returned to the House Science Committee and took a job with computer maker Dell’s science, engineering and technology services sector in Fairfax, Virginia.

Jim Muncy, a space consultant who worked with Dale on the House Science Committee in the 1990s, said the Trump team is fortunate to have Dale back at NASA — if only temporarily.

“The Trump administration is lucky to have Shana Dale help them establish a firm policy and management beachhead at NASA.  The space industry owes the Office of Commercial Space Transportation a debt for lending her to NASA.”

Mike Gold, a space attorney who chairs the FAA’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC), said “Dale would be the lifeguard of any NASA beachhead team.

“Shana combines an intimate knowledge of the Agency with critical experience and contacts on Capitol Hill and at the FAA,” Gold said Jan. 26 via email. “As COMSTAC Chair I was constantly impressed by her as a government official and as a person.”

Dale’s return to NASA, even if only temporary, is feeding speculation about who Trump will tap to run NASA.

Robert Lightfoot, the agency’s highest-ranking civil servant, took over Jan. 20 as acting NASA administrator when Charlie Bolden and his deputy, Dava Newman, stepped down at the end of President Obama’s term.

The Trump White House has yet to nominate Bolden’s and Newman’s replacements. Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) remains the odds-on favorite for landing the top job. Unless Bridenstine would give up his House seat for the agency’s No. 2 position, his appointment would leave only the deputy slot open for Dale, who otherwise has the right resume (if not an obvious love for the public spotlight) for being NASA’s first female chief.

NASA, so far, has announced only two Trump additions to its headquarter’s staff: Erik Noble and Greg Autry were named Jan. 20 as first members of the beachhead team of political appointees assigned to NASA.

Autry, a University of Southern California assistant professor and commercial space proponent, was one of eight members of the “landing team” assigned to NASA by the transition office of then President-elect Trump. Autry is now a White House liaison.

Noble did not serve on the landing team, but worked on the Trump campaign as a political data analyst. He’s currently onboard as a White House senior adviser.

Sources said that at least two other Trump appointees hit the beach at NASA headquarters this week. One is Brandon Eden, who served as a legislative aide to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican whose Mojave congressional district has been a hotbed of commercial space activity.

The other is Jen Rae Wang, a public relations professional who was the Nebraska governor’s spokesperson from 2007-2015. Wang was the Trump campaign’s state director for Nebraska.