Morhard Senate
James Morhard testifies at his Aug. 23 Senate confirmation hearing to become NASA deputy administrator. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

WASHINGTON — The Senate Commerce Committee voted Sept. 5 to advance the nomination of James Morhard as NASA’s next deputy administrator to the full Senate.

The committee favorably reported Morhard’s nomination on a voice vote during a brief executive session, with no members expressing opposition. The nomination now goes to the full Senate for a final confirmation vote.

Morhard, the deputy sergeant at arms for the Senate, has no space industry experience, but emphasized his managerial background during an Aug. 23 confirmation hearing before the committee. “Over and over again, I’ve led organizations through difficult situations by creating an atmosphere of collaborative teamwork that turns visions and goals into realities,” he said.

Morhard faced some critical questions from Democratic senators at that hearing, particularly on his views about climate change. Asked by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) if he felt human activity was the “dominant driver” of climate change, Morhard responded, “I can’t speak authoritatively on that, senator.”

Morhard subsequently assuaged senators about his views. “I was encouraged in the followup communications with the committee after the hearing,” Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), ranking member of the committee, said at the markup. “Mr. Morhard acknowledged that the climate is changing and that it is extremely likely that human activities are the dominant cause of climate change, of the warming of the Earth.”

The committee also favorably reported the nomination of Kelvin Droegemeier, a meteorology professor and vice president for research at the University of Oklahoma, to be director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. At his confirmation hearing, held concurrently with Morhard, Droegemeier didn’t address any space policy issues. While OSTP played a leading role in crafting space policy in past administrations, that responsibility is now held by the National Space Council, which includes OSTP but also many other agencies and departments.

Nelson praised Droegemeier in his remarks at the markup. “I think it’s appropriate to say that the research community is eager for this committee to have his nomination proceed quickly to the Senate,” he said.

“I hope that we can move him quickly,” responded committee chairman Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who previously noted that all the nominees considered at the markup, including Morhard, “are qualified for their positions and it would be my hope that once we act today, the full Senate can move quickly to confirm them.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...