Greg Autry, the White House's nominee to be NASA CFO, at his Nov. 10 confirmation hearing. The Senate Committee Committee voted on party lines Dec. 2 to advance that nomination, even though he would likely only hold the post until Jan. 20. Credit: Senate Commerce Committee webcast

WASHINGTON — The Senate Commerce Committee voted Dec. 2 to advance the nomination of Greg Autry to be NASA’s chief financial officer, a position that he may only fill for several weeks.

The committee voted 14–12, along party lines, to advance to the full Senate Autry’s nomination to serve as NASA’s CFO during a brief executive session. The committee also voted on party lines to advance two other nominations, including Nathan Simington to be a member of the Federal Communications Commission.

The White House nominated Autry to the position in July. He is an assistant professor of clinical entrepreneurship at the University of Southern California whose research has focused on the space industry. He was a member of the incoming Trump administration’s NASA transition team after the 2016 election and briefly served as White House liaison at NASA in early 2017 before resigning to return to USC.

It’s doubtful that Autry would be retained once the Biden administration takes office Jan. 20, a point that Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the ranking member of the committee, alluded to in her opening remarks. “NASA’s CFO develops and executes a budget of over $22 billion, and again, I think the decisions on priorities for the money should be left to the next administration,” she said.

There was no other discussion of Autry’s nomination during the session. He also was largely overlooked at a Nov. 10 confirmation hearing by the committee, where members largely directed their questions at Simington.

“If confirmed, I look forward to joining Administrator Bridenstine and his excellent team in implementing the agency’s ambitious goals,” Autry said in opening remarks at the confirmation hearing. He noted that a former NASA CFO, David Radzanowski, had endorsed his nomination, stating in a letter to the committee that Autry “understands the role of the CFO and its responsibilities.”

One committee member, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), did ask Autry about the progress he expected to see in low Earth orbit commercialization, an initiative of the agency that received only a fraction of the $150 million requested by NASA in fiscal year 2020, and appears likely to fall short of a similar request for fiscal year 2021. Autry called it “critically important” to maximize the investment in the International Space Station and support commercial development.

He added, though, that his views were personal, and that as CFO he would have little role in shaping policy on that or other issues. “The job of CFO at NASA is not a policy position,” he said. “My job is to make sure we do what you folks want done and that we report back to you accurately that it has been done.”

It’s unclear when, or even if, the full Senate will vote on Autry’s nomination. The Senate’s current focus is on a handful of bills, including finalizing a fiscal year 2021 omnibus spending bill , a potential COVID-19 relief package and passage of the National Defense Authorization Act.

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...