The White House on Thursday named a veteran Senate aide with little space experience to be NASA’s deputy administrator — a month after administrator Jim Bridenstine said he wanted someone with strong technical experience in the job, declaring, “We need a scientist.”
In a statement, the White House said it intended to nominate James Morhard; the position requires confirmation by the Senate.
Morhard serves as the U.S. Senate deputy sergeant at arms and over a long government career was a staff director on the Senate Appropriations Committee and worked in the secretary of the Navy’s office, The Washington Post reported.
But there is little in his background to suggest familiarity with NASA and its activities — and the nomination appears to run counter to the wishes of Bridenstine, Space News reported.
“It needs to be somebody who has a lot of space experience, a space professional,” Bridenstine said in a June 12 appearance at a Space Transportation Association luncheon, Space News reported. “It needs to be somebody who has run large organizations, who understands the technology. A scientist would be great.”
Two days later, he asserted: “We need a space professional, we need a scientist, we need somebody who has been involved at NASA for a very long time. It would be beneficial to me if that person was an astronaut,” he said at a meeting of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee, Space News reported.
In both cases he mentioned Janet Kavandi, a former astronaut who is currently director of NASA’s Glenn Research Center, Space News reported.
“It’s telling that Bridenstine was openly campaigning for someone with research and operational experience, but unfortunately, like many things this administration does, they appointed a friend of those in power who has no relevant experience or expertise,” Phil Larson, a space adviser in the Obama White House, told the Post.
Morhard’s backers, however, said he is just the sort of person who can get NASA moving on the right track as the Trump administration makes space a priority.
“The administration has decided they want somebody who is clearly in tune with what the president wants to get done in the space program,” Bob Walker, a former Republican congressman who helped draft President Donald Trump’s space policy goals, told the Post.
In a statement, Bridenstine said the “administration is committed to American leadership in space, and I look forward to working with Mr. Morhard upon his confirmation,” Space News reported.
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