Battle Brews Over Filling NASA Deputy Administrator Spot

Jim Bridenstine (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Quartz reports there’s a battle brewing over who will be NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine’s deputy. The position of deputy administrator must be nominated by the president and approved by the Senate.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine is a former lawmaker, and he says he wants a former astronaut, Dr. Janet Kavandi, as his deputy. But Donald Trump, who makes the final decision, is leaning toward a man with no experience in space technology.

Five sources with knowledge of the deliberations tell Quartz that the White House is seriously considering James Morhard, a veteran senate aide…

Kavandi, 58, joined NASA’s astronaut corps in 1994. She had previously been an engineer at Boeing, and earned a P.h.D in analytical chemistry from the University of Washington in Seattle. She spent 33 days in space as an astronaut on three different space shuttle missions, then became the lead astronaut supervising work on the International Space Station and the deputy head of the astronaut office. In 2016, she became the director of NASA’s Glenn Research Center, which includes a huge vacuum chamber where SpaceX’s crew vehicle, the Dragon space capsule, is currently undergoing tests.

In his current job, Morhard, 61, is responsible for technology and administration in the offices of 100 senators and 88 committees and subcommittees. Starting off as an accountant at the Pentagon, he began his career as a legislative staffer in 1983, earning an MBA and a law degree along the way.

He rose to become the powerful chief of staff of the Appropriations Committee under the late senator Ted Stevens, and forged close ties with Republican senators. Morhard was a passenger, along with former NASA administrator Sean O’Keefe, in a 2010 plane crash that killed Stevens and four others.

  • envy
  • envy

    If he’s an accountant and anything at all like O’Keefe, Morhard might not be a bad choice. NASA needs some serious fiscal discipline, particularly on a few notable projects (hi, JWST).

  • ThomasLMatula

    I Agree. He sounds to be at least as qualified as Lori Graver was when she was Deputy Administrator.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Did you read the environment he comes from? What makes you think he has the inclination or ability to make wise cuts to programs that are going over budget?

  • Douglas Messier

    NASA faces some decisions on commercial crew that could involve how much risk to take. It would be good to have a deputy who understands those things and knows how the agency works and has a science background. Two guys from the Hill at the top of agency trying to gauge those risks might not be the best choice.

  • Robert G. Oler

    when youj are administrator and you cannot control who gets to this position or at least have significant input…you have to wonder what you do control

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Oh, you deep statist! Don’t you know, the boss is the BOSS.

  • ThomasLMatula

    True, what benefit would there be to NASA if they had a Deputy Administrator who ran the senate appropriations committee.

  • Michael Halpern

    Bridenstein wants a scientist so Morhard’s a bad choice

  • Panice

    Great for keeping the pork slurry flowing, not so good for getting any value out of it.

  • Vladislaw

    A double edged sword.. more funding for pork or actual hardware?

  • ThomasLMatula

    Or someone who would have the knowledge to kill SLS? Remember, the Senate Appropriations Committee is not the same as the Senate Committee on Science, Commerce and Transportation that over sees NASA and many of the Senators on Appropriations hate waste.

  • Vladislaw

    Doesn’t Shelby still chair that committee?

  • windbourne

    Lori graver was far more qualified esp since bolden has a strong science background

  • Paul451

    O’Keefe started as a Defence financial analyst, like Morhard, and did a stint as a political aide, but O’Keefe spent most of his career in senior financial management positions. At 33 he was a Comptroller at DoD, overseeing the funding of the first gulf war. At 36, he was appointed Sec.Nav. He was the D.Dir of OMB before getting the NASA gig.

    (In most cases, he was brought in specifically to clean up someone else’s mess. Garnering him a toe-cutter reputation.)

    By contrast, the bulk of Morhard’s life has been as a political back-scratcher. Exactly the skillset that politician Bridenstine doesn’t need. Similarly, the most staff Morhand’s managed is 60. He doesn’t seem even remotely qualified for the job. (Especially when people say that the Administrator is the outward-facing policy & politics role, while the D.Admin is the person who actually runs NASA.)

    (My instinct would normally be to say, “Anything but another astronaut”, but in this case…)

  • Paul451

    Garver had been a policy wonk within NASA. She was a big part of the push that led to COTS. She knew the agency and the industry. She was worthless as D.Admin though. She wanted change, so the old hands hated her and Bolden tended to side with them.

  • windbourne

    and reporting back to his buddies.
    jawohl !