It’s Not Charlie’s Fault

According to an excellent article by the Houston Chronicle’s Stewart Powell, titled Signs of NASA chief’s exile to sidelines put his future in question, it appears that there is a concerted effort by some in the White House, a federal agency and the blogosphere to toss NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden under the bus as a sacrificial offering to the defeat in Congress of an effort by the White House to dramatically alter NASA’s human space flight program.

According to the Chronicle, Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, and other Washington veterans, say talk of replacing Bolden as NASA Administrator derives partly from some White House officials’ suspicions that Bolden did not fully support Obama’s decision to end NASA’s return to the moon in favor of developing commercial spacecraft to service the space station and deep-space technology to reach an asteroid by 2025. Bolden became NASA Administrator months after the “new” human space flight policy had been gestated by White House Science Advisor John Holdren, Lori Garver, Jim Kohlenberger, Office of Science and Technology Policy Chief of Staff, and Paul Shawcross, Chief of the Science and Space Branch at the Office of Management and Budget, the so-called “Gang of Four“. Curiously, none thought it important to re-evaluate this policy with the NASA Administrator before its roll-out nor after it became clear that it was dead-on-arrival in Congress. According to Rep. Green, “Charlie was put into a situation where he had to do what the White House wanted. I don’t blame Charlie – I blame the White House for failing to understand there was not support in Congress for what they wanted to do with NASA.”

The treatment of Administrator Bolden by the White House has even past supporters of the Administration bothered. Said former George Washington University Space Policy head John Logsdon, “I don’t think Charlie has been treated very well by the White House. He has been faithful in his defense of the Obama strategy for space, but some seem to believe he has not been totally convincing.”

As noted in the Chronicle’s article, despite apparently running afoul of some White House officials, Bolden, unlike other senior NASA leaders, won the loyalty of a large share of NASA’s civil service and contractor work force by retaining associate administrators and flight center directors during a yearlong uncertainty and striving to protect as much of the existing workforce as possible.

AmericaSpace Note: Lest some think that the White House’s proposed human space flight policy’s failure before Congress was because of bad message execution on the part of NASA Administrator Bolden, let’s be clear–you do not get, for the first time since NASA’s inception in 1958, both houses of Congress to usurp in a bipartisan fashion a President’s human space flight policy because of inadequate messaging. On a bright note, the White House can take credit for catalyzing a bit of post-partisanship in Congress.

The proposed policy change to NASA’s human space flight program failed miserably in Congress because it was miserably bad policy.

And holding Charlie Bolden, who played no part in the creation of this policy, responsible for its defeat is misguided. Responsibility for the policy’s failure before Congress certainly lies elsewhere.

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