U.S. President George Bush’s June 29 nomination of former astronaut Ronald Sega to serve as the Air Force’s top space official is not expected to run into any major opposition on Capitol Hill, congressional aides said.
Sega, like his predecessor Peter B. Teets, also is expected to be given the responsibility of running the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), which builds the nation’s spy satellites, according to Pentagon officials.
The White House announcement did not mention the NRO position, which does not require Senate confirmation. A dministration officials have discussed the possibility of splitting those jobs between two personnel .
Some congressional aides interviewed for this article said that while they are pleased to see an astronaut who twice has flown into space chosen for the role, they have not been particularly impressed with Sega’s track record on military space work during his tenure as director of defense research and engineering.
He is most widely known in the military space arena for championing the National Aerospace Initiative, an effort launched in 2002 to coordinate the U.S. government’s investment in advanced aerospace technology that focused on hypersonic research.
Congressional aides say that they have seen few results from the National Aerospace Initiative, and say they view it as little more than a name applied to a variety of existing propulsion research projects.
However this may have more to do with the way that the position of the director of defense research and engineering has been viewed within the Pentagon in recent years, according to Jeremiah Gertler, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank here.
Sega’s Pentagon biography describes the director of defense research and engineering as the top technical advisor to the secretary of defense and acquisition chief. Officials holding that role in the past have included Harold Brown and William Perry, both of whom went on to serve as defense secretary.
But the Pentagon has accorded less power to the position over the past 20 years as officials in the Office of the Secretary of Defense have focused more on procurement than technology development, said Gertler, a former staffer on the House Armed Services Committee.
Since he became director of defense research and engineering, Sega also has been a member of the Partnership Council which meets quarterly and includes the director of the NRO, the commander of Air Force Space Command, the commander of Strategic Command, the director of defense research and engineering and the NASA administrator.
The council focuses on cooperation between NASA, Army Strategic Command, the military services and the intelligence community.
Sega’s credentials also include rank as a major general in the Air Force reserves. In addition to logging more than 4,000 flight hours as a pilot, he has served in a variety of positions at Air Force Space Command over the past 20 years, including overseeing the operations of navigation and missile warning satellites, according to his Pentagon biography.