Kavandi still waiting on potential NASA deputy administrator nomination

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CINCINNATI — A NASA center director who nearly a month ago was endorsed by the agency’s new administrator to be the deputy administrator said she hasn’t heard more about being nominated to the post.

In a brief interview after a speech at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ Propulsion and Energy Forum here July 9, Janet Kavandi, director of NASA’s Glenn Research Center, said she wasn’t aware of any new developments in the search for a nominee for the post.

“I’m honored to be considered,” she said. “We’ll see how it plays out. I’m sure there are other people that they’re considering as well.”

Nearly a month ago, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine used two public appearances to express his support for Kavandi. “That’s the kind of person at this juncture, given how important everything is right now, that we need as our deputy, and I’m advocating for her,” he said at a Space Transportation Association luncheon in Washington June 12.

Bridenstine argued that the deputy administrator needed to have a strong technical and managerial background that would complement his policy experience as commercial crew vehicles enter service in the next year and development of the Space Launch System and Orion continues. “It needs to be somebody who has a lot of space experience, a space professional,” he said then. “It needs to be somebody who has run large organizations, who understands the technology. A scientist would be great.”

Kavandi fits those criteria. She has been director of the Glenn Research Center since March 2016 after a year as deputy director of the center. Kavandi has a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry from the University of Washington and was a NASA astronaut, flying on three shuttle missions and then serving in management positions at the Johnson Space Center before moving to Glenn.

Bridenstine made similar comments two days later at a meeting of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee. “We need a space professional, we need a scientist, we need somebody who has been involved at NASA for a very long time. It would be beneficial to me if that person was an astronaut,” he said. “Of course, the person I’ve been advocating for is Janet Kavandi.”

“He’s just suggesting my name as someone he would consider a good candidate,” Kavandi said in the interview. “There are other people who would be good candidates as well. I think he would like a technical person since he has more of a political background.”

Her comments come as a new and very different candidate has emerged for the deputy administrator position. Quartz reported July 10 that one nominee the White House is reportedly considering for the position is James Morhard, the deputy sergeant-at-arms in the U.S. Senate responsible for administrative and technology issues. Morhard previously was chief of staff to former Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).

Morhard has extensive policy experience but appears to lack the technical background sought by Bridenstine for the deputy administrator position. Industry sources, speaking on background, said they weren’t sure how seriously Morhard was being considered by the White House or when a nomination might be announced.

The position of deputy administrator has been vacant at NASA since the beginning of the Trump administration in January 2017. The post, like that of administrator, requires Senate confirmation.