WASHINGTON — Nearly a week after Donald Trump was elected president, his campaign has yet to send a team to NASA to prepare for the upcoming transition in administrations, an agency official said Nov. 14.
Speaking at a meeting of a NASA advisory committee, Greg Williams, deputy associate administrator for policy and plans in the human exploration and operations mission directorate, said the agency had not yet been informed by the Trump campaign’s transition team who the individuals are that will deal with NASA.
“The new administration has not yet named its transition team members that interface with NASA, so we don’t yet know who we’ll be talking to,” Williams told the NASA Advisory Council’s human exploration and operations committee, meeting at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. “We are prepared to talk with them when they arrive.”
Sources said immediately after the Nov. 8 election that Mark Albrecht, the former executive secretary of the National Space Council during the administration of George H.W. Bush and, later, president of International Launch Services, would lead up the NASA transition efforts. However, there has been no formal announcement from the campaign about that selection, nor other names to work with him on NASA transition issues.
The Trump campaign has been slow to ramp up its transition efforts, in large part because of limited planning prior to the election. Much larger agencies have yet to meet transition teams that are typically in place within a few days after an election. At a Nov. 14 forum organized by The Atlantic magazine, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said he had not yet heard from the Trump transition team for the Defense Department, but expected them to arrive at the Pentagon this week.
Despite the uncertainty about what a Trump administration will do in space, Williams said at the advisory committee meeting that he hoped the next administration and next Congress would maintain the agency’s current exploration plans, collectively known as Journey to Mars. “We hope to be building on the consensus we’ve achieved on the phases of exploration, the progression of human exploration from the ISS all the way to the surface of Mars,” he said.
He added that NASA expects to know more in the next week about its budget for fiscal year 2017. The agency, along with the rest of the federal government, is operating under a continuing resolution (CR) that funds programs at 2016 levels through Dec. 9. Congress reconvenes this week for a lame duck session whose top priority will be passing some kind of appropriations bill.
Williams said he did not know if Congress would be able to pass a full-fledged appropriations bill, perhaps in the form of an “omnibus” or “minibus” that combines several appropriations bills into a single package. If not, Congress could instead pass another short-term CR and allow the new Congress in January to take up appropriations bills. Another, but less likely, option is for Congress to pass a CR for all of fiscal year 2017.
At a Nov. 14 webinar on science policy issues organized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Bart Gordon, a former chairman of the House Science Committee who is now a partner at Washington law firm K&L Gates, said he believed appropriators in the House and Senate will seek to get their bill passed this year, unless congressional leaders decide to defer that in order to strike a broader deal with the Trump administration early next year.
“The appropriators would like to finish their work. They’d like to get it done,” he said. “The question, I think, for the broader Republican caucus is, do they see some grand deal that could be done in the spring with infrastructure and tax reform.”
A final decision about 2017 appropriations could also remove the uncertainty surrounding the future of NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). Language in the House version of an appropriations bill funding NASA prohibits the agency from spending any money on efforts associated with ARM. House appropriators said they believed that “neither a robotic nor a crewed mission to an asteroid appreciably contribute to the overarching mission to Mars.”
“What that was was a signal to us that we need to come talk to them and tell them why this fits, why it makes sense,” Williams said. That led to what he called “really good dialogue” with appropriators in the House and Senate about the importance of ARM to NASA’s exploration plans. “As they learn about that and they see what we’re doing, I think they’re seeing some of the value of this and we’re making some headway.”