White House nominates Autry to be NASA CFO

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WASHINGTON — The White House is nominating Greg Autry, a university professor and commercial space advocate who served on the administration’s NASA transition team, to be the agency’s chief financial officer.

The administration announced July 22 it formally nominated Autry to the position, one of four at NASA that requires Senate confirmation. Autry is an assistant professor of clinical entrepreneurship at the University of Southern California, studying technology commercialization with a particular focus on the space industry.

The position of chief financial officer has been vacant since February, when Jeff DeWit, who held the post since being confirmed by the Senate in March 2018, resigned to return home to his family in Arizona. In late June he joined President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign as its chief operating officer, the same position he had in Trump’s 2016 campaign. Melanie Saunders is currently NASA’s acting chief financial officer.

If confirmed, it would mark a return to NASA Headquarters for Autry. He was part of Trump’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.

Autry has been an advocate for space commercialization. At USC he established the Southern California Commercial Spaceflight Initiative to support research on the commercial space industry, with a particular focus on companies in the region. He was also vice president of space development for the National Space Society, a space advocacy organization.

In a February op-ed co-authored with another National Space Society official, Rod Pyle, Autry spoke out against a NASA authorization bill introduced in the House in January. He and Pyle criticized language in the bill mandating a specific approach to lunar lander development that was at odds with NASA’s plans to make use of commercial partnerships.

“NASA is on the right course, with the right leadership and the support of our entrepreneurs and our international partners; let them do their job,” they wrote. “Most importantly, embrace the most significant lesson of the 21st century: releasing space to free enterprise will secure prosperity for the next generation of Americans.”

In a separate op-ed in August 2019, Autry noted that NASA’s current goal of returning humans to the moon “was originally crafted by the 2016-2017 NASA transition team on which I served,” then accelerated in a March 2019 speech by Vice President Mike Pence that moved up the deadline to 2024. Achieving that goal in a sustainable manner, he said, requires a shift from conventional NASA management approaches.

“A successful, 21st century space agency must gather resources and establish capabilities that can be reconfigured to address changing technical and political climates for years to come,” he wrote. “Building such a dynamic kit need not be more expensive and will offer multiple paths to the lunar surface in a competitive process that drives vendors to move quickly at lower costs, rather than embracing caution and seeking higher budgets.”

Autry also supported the nomination of then-Congressman Jim Bridenstine to be NASA administrator. “Bridenstine possesses a remarkable understanding of the science, technology, economics and the policies that surround NASA. He is highly qualified to lead the world’s finest scientific and exploratory organization,” he wrote in a September 2017 op-ed co-authored by Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin.

Bridenstine, confirmed as NASA administrator in April 2018, returned the favor. “Congratulations to Dr. Greg Autry on being nominated to be NASA CFO,” he tweeted July 22. “I urge the Senate to confirm him swiftly.”