Personnel News: January 2021 Archives

NASA Administrator joins Acorn Growth Companies

"Acorn Growth Companies ("Acorn"), a private equity firm investing exclusively in aerospace, defense and intelligence, today announced that Jim Bridenstine, former Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), has joined the company as a dedicated full-time Senior Advisor. "Jim's wealth of knowledge in the space, military, aerospace and engineering sectors will be invaluable to Acorn and its portfolio companies as we continue our mission to invest in operating companies that strive to enhance global mobility, protect national interests and develop next-generation intelligence capability," said Rick Nagel, Managing Partner of Acorn. "He will play a key role in our efforts to deploy capital from our newest investment vehicle, Acorn Aerospace & Defense Fund V."

Schedule F Update

Biden reverses Trump orders seen as hostile to federal workers, Washington Post

"Biden's order says the Schedule F policy "undermined the foundations of the civil service and its merit system principles" and that "it is the policy of the United States to protect, empower, and rebuild the career Federal workforce. It is also the policy of the United States to encourage union organizing and collective bargaining." It told agencies to cancel any steps they had taken for carrying out the orders."

Keith's note: I did a 30 minute exit interview with Jim Bridenstine on Tuesday. Here is a verbatim transcript (there may still be a few typos).

NASAWATCH: Most people who become NASA Administrator tend to do so at the apex of their career and then dial things back, jump on a few boards, and then retire. Yet you have decades ahead of you. This is unusual. Normally I am talking to people who are in their 60s you know "yea, my wife wants me to take 6months off and do nothing ...". Where do you go from up - when you have done something like this at such a young age?

BRIDENSTINE: 'll tell you - this is going to be hard. There is nothing that is going to match the experience that I have had at NASA. The future out there of course is unknown. I know here at least initially I am going to be coming back to Oklahoma. I have some prospects for employment but I don't want to disclose those or make any announcements at this time - but I am going to be back in Oklahoma. ... I have a very strong direction that I am heading but I am not going to make any announcements until next week.

NASAWATCH: So ... you're not filled with a case of Potomac Fever?

BRIDENSTINE: No (laughs) I am very happily coming back to Oklahoma and am excited about participating in my kids' basketball games, and swim meets, and Boy Scouts, and all kinds of other activities that I have missed over the last 8 years.

NASAWATCH: I recall talking to you before you were confirmed. You looked forward to the challenge - you sought it out - but sounded a little overwhelmed at the sheer magnitude of what NASA does. Looking back - what things initially struck you as being devilishly hard that ended up being easy - and what things did you expect to be easy only to find that they were hard?

BRIDENSTINE: The workforce at NASA was overwhelmingly accepting and encouraging and supporting. I had talked to Sean O'Keefe before taking the job and he said 'look, there's going to be lots of support - there's great people there. And when you show they are going to be anxious to help. I will tell you that I found that to be true. NASA is an exceptional group of people. This should not be surprising given the legacy of NASA and how many people want to work at NASA. We really do have bright people but also people that are deeply caring for each other. That was a great thing to walk into and experience.

Message from NASA Acting Administrator Steve Jurczyk and Senior White House Appointee Bhavya Lal

"We have some initial appointments from the new administration: Alicia Brown has been named NASA's Associate Administrator for Legislative Affairs and Intergovernmental Affairs (OLIA), and Marc Etkind will be the Associate Administrator for Communications. Please join us in giving them a warm welcome to the NASA family. There will be other new faces arriving at Headquarters, and we will communicate these developments with you."

- Bhavya Lal, LinkedIn Twitter
- Alicia Brown, LinkedIn Twitter
- Marc Etkind, IMDb - Twitter

Keith's note: Jim Bridenstine has announced that he is leaving NASA. His last day will be 20 January 2021.

I really did not know much about Jim Bridenstine when his name started to bubble up as a possible NASA Administrator choice in 2017. Given the chaos and amateurish way the Trump Landing Team (more like a "boarding party") conducted itself I was predisposed to think that they'd pick a loyalist with a high loser quotient. So I did some digging. He was actually interesting and had given some serious thought to space policy. Over the following months I'd show up at events in DC (with Jeff Foust et al) and we'd try every trick we knew to squeeze out an answer to variants on the "will you be the NASA Administrator?" question that we'd throw at him. Jim did the whole non-answer answer thing like a true pro. When his nomination was official I gave him a much closer look.

Important note: while I try to annoy everyone equally, I am a Democrat and make no secret of that. Jim is not a Democrat. Indeed he was elected from a rather conservative place with a voting record that makes me, with my leftie leanings, cringe quite a bit. But this is a company town and we try to work together despite the whole "Swamp" thing we have been hearing about. Alas, the rank and file Democrats - with Bill Nelson in the lead - went after him as being undesirable for the job etc. etc. I thought he was a breath of fresh air. So I decided to highlight his credentials - and put them in the context of other NASA Administrators. He got the job. The first day on the job he made an emphatic statement on diversity and climate change to allay concerns and he was off and running. And in an effort to broaden input and support Jim also put none other than Bill Nelson on the NASA Advisory Council.

I have been doing NASAWatch for a quarter of a century. After he was nominated people suggested that Jim might want to ping me for some ideas. So did a certain former NASA Administrator who I know rather well. I don't want to kiss and tell, but let's just say that Jim and I had some conversations. Quite a few - and most of them very long. He drank up everything I could offer about previous exploration initiatives and how NASA engages with the public. If you have read NASAWatch then you know about my rants in this regard. What I saw was someone with a genuine passion for space exploration and its value to the public. He did not have to learn that from me or anyone else. It had always been there.

Shortly after he showed up for work a Twitter account became active. Very active. Someone from NASA PAO actually called me and asked me if I was doing it. I laughed and said that I was flattered, but no, I was not tweeting for Jim. But I tweeted an inquiry to @JimBridenstine and got a response. It was Jim himself. NASA was not exactly ready for this. I loved it. Finally - an Administrator who took the issue of communicating personally.

Jim was presented with a human exploration program of record that had problems. Big problems. It still does. The White House threw the whole 2024 thing at him and he ran with it. But there were other things that he managed to pull off that people have not really noticed. While the Trump Administration did its level best to deny the impact of human influence on climate change at other agencies such as NOAA, somehow, NASA continued to do its science - and talk about it - with no censoring. Yes, some attempts were made to cancel some Earth science missions, but other than that, NASA seemed to have a Teflon coating when it came to openly talking about climate change. This most certainly required some deft thinking on Jim's part.

Jim also had to suddenly transform a sprawling agency and its workforce from one that worked in offices to one that worked from spare bedrooms as the Coronavirus pandemic descended upon our world. Like everyone else, Jim had to deal with his kids eating up the bandwidth for home schooling while he was running NASA on his cellphone in his living room. While this called for a lot unprecedented changes in the way people worked - it seems to have worked far better than anyone had a right to expect. And you can only get that when the person at the top is fully invested in its success.

To me, however, the thing that I hope that Jim will be remembered for is his embracing of education and diversity. Some people like to go back to his voting record. It is what it is - and to be fair, his job was to vote the way his constituents wanted him to vote. But as he arrived at NASA he listened to wiser minds and adjusted his world view accordingly at NASA. Although the "first woman and next man" line appears in everything the agency says, he ran with the notion that when Americans go back to the Moon they need to do so representing our nation as a whole. The "Artemis Generation" phrase also became popular - echoing the "Apollo generation" phrase commonly used to refer to people (like me) who grew up as we first reached out to the Moon half a century ago. After all, while we work here in the present on these programs, the next generation will truly inherit and expand upon the benefits that will result.

As Administrations change there is always a temptation to change the name of things to erase the previous Administration from people's minds and put a new mark on things representative of the incoming team. The "Apollo" program managed to keep its name under the Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford administrations. The Orion spacecraft got its name under the Bush II Administration and will bear it under the Biden Administration. I certainly hope that the Biden folks have better things to do and let the Artemis program keep its name - and with it, Jim's contribution to keeping it alive.

Oh yes, Jim brought back the worm logo. And y'all know how I feel about that. ;-)

A lot of people (including me) would have liked to see Jim stay on. But Jim took himself out of possible consideration to stay on at NASA. Odds are that the Biden folks would not have given thought to this given the global house cleaning that they are implementing. That said, Jim's rationale was honorable. When the NASA Administrator sits in front of OMB at budget time, everyone needs to have no doubt of the Administrator's support of the current Administration's interest without having any concern of lingering prior policies. He simply shut down pointless speculation by saying that he was moving on. He wanted NASA to have the best Administrator that the Biden Administration could find.

Jim now has the distinction (I think) of being the youngest former NASA Administrator. We have certainly not heard the last of him. I wish him well.

Ad Astra Jim. You done good.

Bill Thornton

NASA Remembers Astronaut William Thornton

"NASA is saddened to learn of the loss of former physician-astronaut, Dr. William Thornton, who died last week at his home in Boerne, Texas, at the age of 91. Thornton was selected as an astronaut in 1967, and launched twice on the space shuttle Challenger on STS-8 and STS-51B, the Spacelab 3 mission."

Cliff Feldman

Keith's note: Cliff Feldman was a Production Supervisor at NASA Television at NASA HQ. More to follow.

Ad Astra, Cliff.

Cliff Feldman, LinkedIn

NASA OCOMM Leadership Updates

"Over the last two years, NASA Communications has undergone a transformation focused on providing the agency a united and strategic direction for communications. Since March 2019, we have taken bold steps to integrate functions and strengthen capabilities, and, in the process, have better coordinated our strategic efforts across the agency. Now that we have launched the communications enterprise, it's time to go into full implementation. To do that, we must expand our leadership team to reflect the needs and goals of the enterprise model and provide additional focus on developing the business unit of Communications to help convey the significant value we bring to the agency, while maintaining focus on the content development and creative direction we do so well."

NASA Announces Senior Leadership Changes, NASA

"NASA has announced four senior leadership changes: Mike Gold as associate administrator for Space Policy and Partnerships; Karen Feldstein as associate administrator for International and Interagency Relations; Karla Smith Jackson as assistant administrator for Procurement; and Jeff Seaton as chief information officer."

Robert Matthew Winglee

Robert Matthew Winglee

"One of his proudest recent achievements was founding the Northwest Earth and Space Sciences Pipeline (NESSP) in order to bring STEM to underrepresented and minority students. Through his Directorships of Washington NASA Space Grant and NESSP, he has touched the lives of many middle and high school students throughout the country. When students saw him coming they would yell out, "Here comes the rocket man!"

George Carruthers

George R. Carruthers, scientist who designed telescope that went to the moon, dies at 81, Washington Post

"George R. Carruthers, an astrophysicist and engineer who was the principal designer of a telescope that went to the moon as part of NASA's Apollo 16 mission in 1972 in an effort to examine the earth's atmosphere and the composition of interstellar space, died Dec. 26 at a Washington hospital. He was 81. Dr. Carruthers, who built his first telescope when he was 10, had a singular focus on space science from an early age and spent virtually his entire career at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington. He was one of the country's leading African American astrophysicists and among the few working in the space program."

Image: President Barack Obama awards the National Medal of Technology and Innovation to Dr. Carruthers at the White House in 2013.


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This page is an archive of entries in the Personnel News category from January 2021.

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