Personnel News: April 2021 Archives

Michael Collins

Family Statement on Passing of Astronaut Michael Collins

"We regret to share that our beloved father and grandfather passed away today, after a valiant battle with cancer. He spent his final days peacefully, with his family by his side. Mike always faced the challenges of life with grace and humility, and faced this, his final challenge, in the same way. We will miss him terribly. Yet we also know how lucky Mike felt to have lived the life he did. We will honor his wish for us to celebrate, not mourn, that life. Please join us in fondly and joyfully remembering his sharp wit, his quiet sense of purpose, and his wise perspective, gained both from looking back at Earth from the vantage of space and gazing across calm waters from the deck of his fishing boat.

Our family asks for privacy during this difficult time. Details on services will be forthcoming."

Ad Astra

Keith's 22 April update: Sources report that despite pleading guilty to COVID-19 Related Loan Fraud Andrew (Nestor) Tezna still works at NASA - in his capacity of running the NASA CFO Policy & Grants Office as is shown in this org chart. He is still being paid for official duties related to the financial operations and integrity of NASA - even though this loan issue was discovered as long ago as December 2020. He led the COVID-19 response efforts and got an award for that. And apparently when he travelled - he approved his own travel orders.

Note: NASA only provides statements like this to some media - but not others: NASA executive spent $272,000 in COVID loans on pool, cars and dog breeder, feds say, News and Observer

"A representative from NASA did not confirm Tezna's current employment status but provided the following statement: "NASA is aware of reports concerning fraud charges brought against an employee unrelated to the individual's work for the agency," the statement reads. "NASA refers all inquiries to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, which has jurisdiction over this ongoing matter."

But wait NASA says that "NASA is aware of reports concerning fraud charges"? Really - that's all? It is more than "reports about charges". Tezna pled guilty and will be sentenced on 16 July. Its over. And yet NASA is only aware of the "reports of charges"?

But the NASA OIG seems to take this far more seriously - from the DOJ release: "As a NASA senior executive, the Agency placed a great deal of trust in Tezna. Taking advantage of the CARES Act to fraudulently obtain PPP loans not only violated the Agency's trust, but the trust of American people that sought assistance for the legitimate needs of their struggling businesses," said Special Agent in Charge Mark J. Zielinski, NASA Office of Inspector General, Eastern Field Office."

I am trying to imagine what the reaction would have been for this guy to apply for his present position at NASA with this sort of criminal offense on his resume. I doubt they'd hire him to do government finances. That said, why does he still have those responsibilities after a guilty plea for financial crimes? In other words Why is Andrew Tezna still working at NASA?

Senior NASA Employee Pleads Guilty to COVID-19 Related Loan Fraud, DOJ

"According to court documents, Andrew Tezna, 36, of Leesburg, fraudulently submitted three loan applications to two financial institutions (totaling $272,284) under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a federal initiative designed to help businesses pay their employees and meet their basic expenses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Tezna also submitted two Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program applications to the Small Business Administration (totaling $69,500), and he applied for COVID-related unemployment benefits from Virginia, ostensibly for his mother-in-law, who was retired and did not qualify for the benefits (totaling $15,950). In support of the fraudulent PPP loan applications, Tezna submitted fabricated IRS tax returns and fraudulently claimed payroll expenses that did not exist."

Testimony By Bill Nelson Nominee for Administrator, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

"I also believe NASA plays an important role in inspiring the next generation of inventors and scientists. After the Apollo program, thousands of young people dedicated themselves to studying engineering, science, and computing. Not all of these people joined the space program. Some went into biology or the nascent computer industry. They made this country a technology and economic powerhouse. 60 percent of people alive today weren't alive to see a human walk on the Moon. Imagine who NASA and America inspires when we return to the Moon, and this time include women and people of color.

Finally, the President has highlighted that space investments spur economic growth, improve life on Earth, and keep America competitive. Through all NASA activities, the agency generated more than $64.3 billion in total economic output during fiscal year 2019, supported more than 312,000 jobs nationwide. Every state in the country benefits economically from NASA. Investments in research and technology are our seed corn for future economic growth, and are a key part of the Build Back Better plan."

Keith's note: The hearing got started with a seemingly endless stream of compliments that included the phrase "my good friend Bill Nelson". By the time that ended it was obvious that Nelson was going to be confirmed no matter what he said. Nelson was light on specifics - saying that he was nto allowed to talk to NASA - which is a little strange given how NASA helped him prepare Nelson for this hearing and escorted him around the Hill for office visits.

Sen. Wicker asked a question wherein he stated that NASA was planning a Moon landing on 2024 and a Mars landing in 2029, Nelson did not seek to correct Wicker about the 2029 Mars date. Later in the hearing Sen. Blackburn said that the Mars landing was planned for 2030. Nelson did not correct that. Later he said that the 2024 Lunar landing timetable set by the Trump Administration is still in place and that "space is hard". Nelson later said going to Mars was set to happen in the decade of the 2030s. So it is apparent that Sen. Nelson is somewhat uncertain about exactly what all of NASA's major human spaceflight goals are.

Nelson also tried to pass off some revisionist history wherein he was a staunch supporter of a "dual course" wherein NASA pursued both a government and commercial path do doing things in space. In reality he was a staunch supporter of the government approach (SLS aka "the big rocket") and sought to limit or move funds for commercial space to support SLS. Now he's found religion and claims to be a strong supporter of commercial space. So, stay tuned.

Sen. Cantwell made several comments suggesting that she was not exactly thrilled with the recent decision by NASA to sole source the Human Landing System (HLS) contract to SpaceX. Nelson made several comments saying that he supported competition in such activities but did not go so far as to suggest that he might change the HLS award to SpaceX. Given that the NASA HLS decision was overtly driven by NASA budget shortfalls efforts by Nelson to increase NASA's budget might hint at a revisit to this decision.

As for NASA and China - well, Nelson said that NASA will adhere to the law- specifically that enacted by Rep. Wolf. Regarding the Artemis Accords Nelson said that he hopes to expand the number of signatories to include countries that have yet to sign - with a focus on peaceful uses of space.

When asked what the specific value of the Biden budget for NASA Earth Science and climate change Nelson had no real specific answer other than to support the budget increase and note that NASA observes climate change and that this is (obviously) important.

Nelson was asked about education benefits that can be derived from the space program. He replied that "This is one of the areas I really want to pour the juice to at NASA as requested by the White House." He repeated the 'juice' phrase several more times. One would hope that Nelson is looking to truly overhaul NASA's education office and fix what is broken - and not simply pour money into it.

Again, as far as Nelson's confirmation is concerned, based on the hearing, this is a done deal.

Keith's note: Apparently neither NASA or the White House are inclined to issue a formal press release about the nomination of Pam Melroy to be NASA's new Deputy Administrator. Nothing on NASA.gov. I guess its not a big deal to NASA or the Administration. They just let things dribble out. Oh well, welcome back to NASA, Pam. Nothing has changed.

Keith's 3:20 pm EDT udpate: Today, President Joe Biden announced his intent to nominate eight leaders to key Administration posts (Pam Melroy)
Keith's 4:09 pm EDT udpate: NASA Statement on Nomination of Pam Melroy for Agency Deputy Administrator

-----

Melroy:
It's a great honor to be nominated by President Biden to support Senator Nelson and help lead NASA. The agency is critical in America's fight to combat climate change and maintain leadership in space.

This year, NASA will embark on the first human deep space exploration program since Apollo, launch the James Webb Telescope, test the first all-electric X-Plane, and further technologies to take humans to Mars. And the way to do it is as a team that honors diversity in every dimension!

Nelson:
As a retired USAF Colonel and test pilot, former NASA astronaut and Space Shuttle commander, and a dynamic leader with a wide breadth of experience, I believe that Pam Melroy will be a great partner to help lead NASA.

Pam has the longstanding technical and leadership experience that will help NASA on its mission to explore the cosmos, expand climate change research, and ensure NASA-developed technologies benefit life here on Earth. It's important that NASA has a team leading the agency towards the future - one of partnership and collaboration with commercial providers and committed to advancing equity for all Americans. Together, we will work to help NASA reach its full potential and accomplish the agency's critical missions in the years and decades to come.

Philip K. Chapman

NASA Mourns the Passing of Astronaut Philip K. Chapman

"NASA is saddened by the death of Apollo-era astronaut Philip K. Chapman. He was selected in August 1967 to be a member of Astronaut Group 6, who were primarily scientists rather than pilots. Chapman was the first Australian-born American astronaut."

Keith's note: Mike Gold is leaving NASA Headquarters to join Redwire Space. I am really sorry to see Mike go. While he (deservedly) got a lot of credit for the whole Artemis Accords effort, he played a role in taking on a lot of less glamorous tasks - many of which laid half baked and ignored for a long time and needed to be dealt with. I wish him well at Redwire - so long as they do not make him a redshirt.


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

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