NASA Administrator Nominee Responds to Senate Committee's Initial Questionnaire
On Tuesday, 5 September, the United States Senate received for consideration the nomination of Representative James "Jim" Bridenstine (R-OK) to the position of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) administrator. Currently, Robert M. Lightfoot, Jr. is serving as the Acting Administrator, having stepped into the role on 20 January 2017 upon the change in administration and resignation of the previous administrator (2009-2017), Maj. Gen. Charles F. Bolden.
Mr. Bridenstine's nomination has been sent to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation; the committee members and staff has been meeting with him and gathering information ahead of a public hearing. The hearing has not yet been scheduled, but may be as soon as next week, and may feature a panel of nominees for Presidential appointments including Mr. Bridenstine. The committee will vote on endorsing the nominee at the conclusion of the hearing; if a majority of votes are in the affirmative, the nomination is then advanced to a vote of the full Senate. Final confirmation in the Senate also requires a majority approval.
The Senate Commerce committee, as part of its information-gathering process before a hearing, requested Mr. Bridenstine complete an initial questionnaire, which he signed on 11 September. His full responses to the questionnaire are available to view on the committee's website.
In response to question 18, which asks about qualifying background/employment and reasons why he wishes to serve, Mr. Bridenstine gave the following particularly relevant (to the AAS membership) passages on science and education here (emphasis and [bracketed comments] mine):
My committee assignments [currently: Science, Space, and Technology; Armed Services] and subcommittee chairmanship [formerly: Environment, subcommittee of Science, Space, and Technology] placed me in a position of responsibility for oversight of America's civil, commercial, and national security space. NASA is an incredible leadership and soft power tool for the United States of America. With NASA's global leadership, we will pioneer the solar system, sending humans back to the Moon, to Mars, and beyond. This requires a consistent, sustainable strategy for deep space exploration.
I am fully familiar with NASA's role as a purchasing agent for NOAA and how critical this partnership is to protect lives and property. As a United States Representative from Oklahoma, I have led efforts to improve severe weather prediction[,] and I have come to appreciate how complex Earth is as a system. NASA must continue studying our home planet. Unfortunately, Earth science sometimes gets pitted against planetary science for resources. This is not in the best interest of NASA, the United States, or the world. Mars once had a magnetic field, rivers, lakes, and an an ocean on its north pole. At some point, Mars changed dramatically[,] and we should strive to understand why. Studying other planets can inform our understanding of Earth. NASA must continue to advance both Earth science and planetary science for the benefit of mankind.
As the Executive Director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum & Planetarium, I saw children of all backgrounds benefit from NASA's STEM education programs. NASA's stunning achievements make it uniquely situated to educate, inspire[,] and motivate future generations of Americans.
In addition, in response to question 20, about the "top three challenges" facing NASA, Mr. Bridenstine identified:
- Maintaining consistency and constancy of purpose while establishing a consensus agenda that can bridge multiple administrations regardless of party. This is essential to avoid resource-wasting program cancellations and maintain high morale both within the Agency and its contractor workforce;
- Maintaining and building international partnerships while ending dependency on unfriendly nations to avoid exploitable vulnerabilities;
- Bringing together traditional space companies and new space entrepreneurs into a comprehensive NASA vision to maximize resources and create efficiencies.
The full questionnaire also includes Mr. Bridenstine's perspective and vision for the human exploration and space technology efforts of NASA, with a particular emphasis on increasing public-private partnerships with commercial space ventures, a theme of the American Space Renaissance Act (H.R. 4595, 114th Congress) introduced by Mr. Bridenstine in 2016 but never enacted by Congress. Mr. Bridenstine also provides a resumé, responses to questions on potential conflicts of interest and legal history, and an accounting of writings and relevant speeches (a note here: there is a mistake in the list of speeches, where Mr. Bridenstine states that he gave a speech to the American Astronomical Society in December 2016, when he means to reference his talk to the other AAS: the American Astronautical Society).
- "Bridenstine Outlines Challenges He Foresees for NASA" by Jeff Foust for Space News, in response to the release of the questionnaire
- "Fact Sheet on Backgrounds of NASA Administrators" by Marcia Smith for Space Policy Online
- "NASA Nominee Has Bold Visions for Space, Unclear Intentions for Science" by Will Thomas for the American Institute of Physics (AIP) science policy newsletter, FYI, before the questionnaire was released
We will provide an update when we receive word on the confirmation hearing date. AAS members are, as always, encouraged to stay engaged in the policy process. In this case, you can send feedback on this nomination to the committee directly, through its members, and/or by contacting the AAS Public Policy Office.
John N. Bahcall Public Policy Fellow