Horn eyes space role in Biden administration

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WASHINGTON — The outgoing chair of the House space subcommittee says she would be interested in taking a position in the incoming Biden administration involving space, including at NASA.

Rep. Kendra Horn (D-Okla.) chairs the House Science Committee’s space subcommittee in the current Congress and also serves on the House Armed Services Committee, but lost her bid for reelection earlier this month. Since then, she has been mentioned as a potential nominee for NASA administrator under the Biden administration.

In a Nov. 16 interview, Horn said she would consider taking on some kind of role related to space in the new administration. “I am honored to have my name mentioned for a couple of different things, and I am absolutely open to serving in the Biden administration and bringing my experience in the space industry, as a civilian and as a member of Congress, to bear,” she said.

Asked what her preferred role would be, she said that NASA “would be an exciting opportunity” for her, citing her work on the House Science Committee. “It would provide some good insight and help continue the momentum that’s been building on moon to Mars.”

Horn, who earlier in her career worked for the Space Foundation, said she would like to remain involved in the space industry in some way, whether as part of the next administration or elsewhere, after leaving Congress. “It’s something near and dear to my heart,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons it’s been so rewarding to sit at the intersection of civil, commercial and national security space as a member of Congress.”

Horn is perhaps best known for introducing a NASA authorization bill in January that was critical of some aspects of the agency’s Artemis program, such as its use of public-private partnerships for developing human lunar landers. The bill cleared her subcommittee days after its introduction but has not progressed further, which she attributed to the pandemic that halted much of Congress’ work this year.

It’s unlikely, she acknowledged, that the authorization bill will make it through Congress this year given higher priorities such as passing spending bills, a defense authorization act and COVID-19 relief package. “I never lose hope, but I think that our time is running short,” she said. “Given everything that has to happen between now and the end of the year, I think it would be extraordinarily optimistic to say we could get something across the finish line.”

She was also skeptical a Senate version of an authorization bill would also make it through Congress this year. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, has advocated for the bill, which cleared his committee a year ago but has yet to be passed by the full Senate.

Even if the Senate does pass the bill, Horn doubts the House would take it up. “I think there are some differences that we would want to work our way through,” she said. “Given the time between now and the end of the year, it would be a heavy lift to either bill out of both houses and signed into law.”

Those doubts extend to a separate bill in the Senate addressing space traffic management. Wicker’s Space Preservation and Conjunction Emergency, or SPACE, Act, introduced in October, would assign civil space traffic management responsibilities to the Department of Commerce, a move aligned with the Trump administration’s Space Policy Directive 3. The Senate Commerce Committee is scheduled to mark up the bill during an executive session Nov. 18.

Horn said that while space traffic management was a priority, she doubted there would be time to take up the bill this year even if the Senate approves it. “It is something that we really need to tackle,” she said, “but just being realistic, I would guess it’s not something that will rise to the top.”

While those bills may not pass, Horn believes they will set a foundation for work by the next Congress, emphasizing the bipartisan efforts in the science committee, where both Democratic and Republican leadership co-sponsored her authorization bill. “I hope that sets the stage moving into the 117th Congress that can built upon.”