Obama Appointee Urges Patience on NASA Chief Pick

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  Space News Business

Obama Appointee Urges Patience on NASA Chief Pick

By BECKY IANNOTTA
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 18 March 2009
02:12 pm ET






GREENBELT
,
Md.
— Alan Ladwig, one of U.S. President BarackObama’s first and only NASA appointees to date, said the
U.S.
space agency is in capable hands while it waits for Obama to nominate a new administrator.

Obama supporters began the year hopeful that a new NASA administrator would be selected before Obama took the oath of office. But the inauguration came and went without an announcement.

Ladwig
, a senior NASA adviser who served on Obama’s NASA transition team, counseled patience during a March 10 speech at the Robert H. Goddard Memorial Symposium here.

“The bottom line is stay tuned, it is going to take some time,” Ladwig said. “I know there are people being considered, there are people being talked to for administrator and deputy administrator, and we’ll just have to hang on.”

Ladwig
, a former NASA associate administrator for policy and plans who has worked for Northrop Grumman, Space.com and Zero Gravity Corp., said problems with some of the president’s cabinet picks could pose a challenge to Obama’s goal to usher 100 nominees through the Senate confirmation process by April 1. The Senate has final say over 470 federal jobs filled by presidential nominees, including NASA administrator.

Ladwig
sought to assure industry representatives that in the interim the space agency is being capably managed by Acting Administrator Chris Scolese, a career civil servant who had held NASA’s No. 3 position since mid-2007. NASA managers have rallied around Scolese as the space agency formulates plans for spending an extra $1 billion included in the economic stimulus bill Obama signed into law Feb. 17, Ladwig said. The space agency also is sorting through the $17.8 billion budget for 2009 that Obama signed March 11, and is awaiting the details of Obama’s proposed $18.7 billion budget for 2010.

“Contrary to complaints that we are rudderless and stalled, NASA is doing just fine,” Ladwig said. “In fact we may not want to have an administrator because everybody is working together pretty well right now.”

While Ladwig delivered his upbeat message, the president himself told a group of reporters in
Washington
that he will “soon be appointing a new NASA director,” according to a partial transcript of the interview posted on the Orlando Sentinel Web site.

Obama said he will look to the new NASA chief to chart a clear direction for the space agency that elicits more support from the general public.

“The space shuttle program has yielded some extraordinary scientific discoveries, but I think it’s fair to say that there’s been a sense of drift to our space program over the last several years. We need to restore that sense of excitement and interest that existed around the space program,” Obama said. “Shaping a mission for NASA that is appropriate for the 21st century is going to be one of the biggest tasks of my new NASA director. Once we have that vision, then I think that it’s going to be much easier to build support for expanding our space efforts.”

Obama’s
message was similar to comments made earlier the same day by retired U.S. Air Force Gen. Lester Lyles, one of four men said to be under consideration for NASA’s top job.

Speaking at the Goddard Symposium, Lyles emphasized the need for a national space strategy that conveys the importance of space in the everyday lives of Americans, particularly environmental monitoring and the economy.

“The reason we want an articulate space strategy is to have it come straight from the top that this is important to the nation,” Lyles told Space News.

Lyles said civil, military, commercial and national security space programs should be better coordinated and that NASA should not be afraid to cancel projects that are not working.

As for being considered for NASA chief, Lyles told Space News he is honored that his name has been mentioned in addition to former astronaut and retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Charlie Bolden, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Scott Gration and Steve Isakowitz, chief financial officer of the U.S. Department of Energy and former NASA comptroller and deputy associate administrator of exploration systems.

Lyles hinted, however, that he might prefer someone else be selected, considering he since retired from the Air Force in 2003 and has been enjoying serving on multiple executive boards, blue ribbon panels and study committees.

“It would be a sacrifice but I have no idea what’s going on so we’ll just have to wait and see,” he said. “A friend of mine talked about if such a thing were an opportunity – the opportunity to serve the country – and I had to remind him, I served 35 and a half years. I’ve given my blood, so maybe it’s time for somebody else. The other thing is, I would never ever put myself in the same stature as a great engineer as Mike Griffin or manager and leader as Sean O’Keefe or Dan Goldin so I don’t think about that because I can’t stand in their shoes,” he said, referring to the previous three NASA administrators.