— As U.S. President-elect BarackObama was preparing to name two former NASA officials to head his transition efforts at the
space agency, NASA Administrator Mike Griffin told space shuttle workers he would happily remain on the job if asked but that he did not think that would happen.
“I serve at the pleasure of the president,”
said during a Nov. 13 town hall-style meeting at
. “There are different kinds of political appointments. There are fixed terms; the FBI is six years, the Federal Reserve is seven … and the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] is five. NASA is an ‘at the pleasure of.’ So if the next president wants to ask me to continue, I’d be happy to do it. I doubt that that would happen. It would need to be under the right circumstances.”
Griffin, an experienced technical manager with five master’s degrees and a long space resume, rejoined NASA in 2005 to oversee the agency’s return to flight following the 2003 Columbia disaster, complete construction of the international space station and get started on the rockets and spacecraft needed to return to the Moon.
made clear that for him, the “right circumstances” would include being allowed to stay the course on the agency’s Vision for Space Exploration.
“We’re in a good policy direction right now. NASA, in my view, for the first time since the Nixon administration terminated Apollo, NASA is now doing the right things,”
said. “If somebody wanted me to stay on but said ‘now, we need to go over here,’ well, do it with somebody else. We’re operating with about as little budget as we could effectively operate …I don’t want to be a figurehead for claiming we can do something we can’t do.”
said he was encouraged by the policy positions on NASA that Obama took during the campaign, including his pledge to find an additional $2 billion for the cash-strapped agency.
“I thought we got some very positive statements on more than one occasion from President-elect Obama on NASA and its role in society in the future during the campaign,” Griffin said, later adding: “So my first hope is that the comments made by President-elect Obama during the campaign were campaign promises that he and his administration hope to fulfill.”
If NASA were to get extra money, Griffin said he would like to see at least some of it used to accelerate development of the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle and Ares 1 rocket NASA is building to replace the space shuttle.
has earned his share of detractors during his three-and-a-half years in the hot seat, he still has the support of influential lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, at least one of whom has made the case to the Obama team for keeping
on at least for now.
A spokesman for Sen. Bill Nelson, (D-Fla.), who chairs the Senate Commerce space and aeronautics subcommittee, told Space News Nov. 14 that Nelson had called Obama transition team member Lori Garver after the election to urge keeping
in place at least until a “sure-fire” successor is found.
Since Nelson’s call, the Obama transition team formally has identified Garver and Roderic Young as the heads of its efforts at NASA.
, a space consultant with the Avescent Group here who served as NASA’s associate administrator for policy and plans from 1998 to 2001, was Obama’s most visible space advisor during the campaign, drafting position papers and standing in for the candidate at various space policy debates. Garver also was an active fundraiser for Obama.She and her husband, Lockheed Martin Space Systems employee David Brandt, personally contributed more than $15,000 to Obama and other Democrats this election cycle, according to public records.
Young, a public relations executive at Arlington, Va.-based TMG Strategies, was then-NASA Administrator Dan Goldin’s press secretary from late 1997 to early 2000. Public records show that Young donated $250 to Obama in January.
Garver and Young report to Tom Wheeler, a technology entrepreneur on leave from his job as managing director of Core Capital Partners to head up an Obama transition team working group responsible for science, technology, space and art agencies.
NASA employees received official word on the selection of Garver and Young in a Nov. 14 e-mail from NASA Chief of Staff Paul Morrell.
Courtney Stadd, a space consultant who headed the NASA transition under President George W. Bush in 2000, said the transition team’s chief responsibilities are to gather the facts about the agency’s budget, programs and other pressing issues and report back to the incoming administration. While the transition team does not have a formal role on personnel matters, Stadd said Garver and Young certainly may provide informal inputs to the part of the Obama transition team focused on filling political appointments.
The 2008 Plum Book, an official listing of the thousands of high-level government jobs likely to open up during the presidential transition, was published Nov. 12. The NASA portion of the Plum Book identifies nearly 20 such positions currently held by Bush appointees. Of those, only four – NASA administrator, deputy administrator, chief financial officer and inspector general – require a formal presidential appointment and Senate confirmation.
Malik contributed to this report from Kennedy Space Center, Fla.