It is reported on several space news sites that NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver will be leaving NASA in early September and will be taking up a position with the Airline Pilots Association. Some might wonder why NASA’s Deputy Administrator would leave at this time, and her announcement today will certainly shed more light on her reasons for doing so. But it had been rumored for some time that NASA’s Deputy Administrator wanted to leave. NASA Administrator Bolden and OSTP Chief Holdren release a dual press release on Ms. Garver’s departure from NASA.
A native of Michigan, Deputy Administrator Garver’s career in space policy started with her work for then Ohio Senator John Glenn in 1983, then as Executive Director of the National Space Society in the late 1980’s, and continued as Associate Administrator of Policy and Plans during the Clinton Administration. Ms. Garver has been married to David Brandt, who is also a passionate space enthusiast, for over 25 years and they are the parents of two teenage young men.Ms. Garver led the Obama NASA transition team after then-Senator Obama won the 2008 presidential election, a role in which she became a lightning rod for many in the aerospace community. It was reported in early December 2008 that there had been a sharp exchange between Ms. Garver and then-NASA Administrator Mike Griffin. The source of conflict was the Obama space transition team’s efforts to figure out how to terminate Project Constellation–Ms. Garver’s opposition to the Bush Administration’s Vision for Space Exploration and therefore Constellation wasn’t a secret–and proceed with a new space plan. Those rumors, and a Wall Street Journal article about them, prompted Neil Armstrong’s December 27, 2008, letter to the Wall Street Journal, Future Space Opportunities Are the President’s Call, in which he in part stated that then President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team ‘faces a tough early choice between extending the life of the aging space shuttle and accelerating its replacement.’
“I certainly hope that isn’t accurate, in that the transition team should play no part in such decisions. While these men and women are experienced and enthusiastic space program veterans, they are neither aerospace engineers nor former program managers and cannot be sufficiently knowledgeable to make choices in the technical arena.”
This would not be the last time that the future NASA Deputy Administrator would clash with Neil Armstrong. And those eventual encounters would also include other former astronauts such as Gene Cernan and Jim Lovell.
That fight began in earnest on February 5, 2010, the day NASA announced a plan to terminate Project Constellation and source human space transportation to new commercial space companies, although some would argue the fight actually began with the Augustine Commission. It was widely rumored, and over the years multiple sources have confirmed, that Ms. Garver was one of the key architects of the NASA plan, along with several others including individuals at the Office of Management and Budget and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
NASA’s new human space flight plan received a less-than-enthusiastic reception by Congress, in part because Congress had not been consulted during the plan’s gestation. By April 15, 2010, it was clear that the space plan proposed by NASA, OSTP, and OMB was in deep trouble. Behind the scenes, bipartisan opposition was building, forcing the president to try to control the damage by going to Kennedy Space Center, with Buzz Aldrin for support, and making a speech during which he proposed that the Orion spacecraft, a key part of the Constellation program, be continued as a lifeboat for the International Space Station. But the president’s Kennedy Space Center speech received only tepid support, even from those in the President’s own Party. And the stories by KSC personnel of who was and wasn’t allowed into the speech, never mind the president’s unwillingness to even have a token meeting with his own civil servants, made the whole trip a PR disaster. It wasn’t just Congress that was opposed to the new NASA spaceflight plan; Robert Zubrin announced his opposition in an article in the New Atlantis, “Going Nowhere“. And on that day, Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan publicly announced their opposition to the new NASA human spaceflight plan. Opposition to the new human space flight plan continued to build until on May 12, 2010, when the battle to end the NASA human space exploration program itself effectively came to an end.
On May 12, 2010, Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan testified before the full Senate Commerce Committee, testimony that was carried live by the three major TV and cable news networks. Armstrong’s testimony was as gripping as it was critical:
“With regard to President Obama’s 2010 plan, I have yet to find a person in NASA, the Defense Department, the Air Force, the National Academies, industry, or academia that had any knowledge of the plan prior to its announcement. Rumors abound that neither the NASA Administrator nor the president’s Science and Technology Advisor were knowledgeable about the plan. Lack of review normally guarantees that there will be overlooked requirements and unwelcome consequences. How could such a chain of events happen? A plan that was invisible to so many was likely contrived by a very small group in secret who persuaded the president that this was a unique opportunity to put his stamp on a new and innovative program. I believe the president was poorly advised.”
On September 29, 2010, the House passed S 3729, the 2010 NASA Authorization Act, after a debate on the House floor that was broadcast live by the TV and cable networks. On October 11, 2010, President Obama quietly signed the NASA Authorization Act into law. For the Obama White House, this was a Pyrrhic victory; the House version would have more or less fully rolled back the cancellation of Constellation. The 2010 Great Space Debate was over.
There were other subsequent battles that NASA Deputy Administrator Garver reportedly played a key role in, which multiple first-hand sources both in and out of NASA confirm: efforts to slow Orion’s development; delays in implementing programs the 2010 NASA Authorization Act; a refusal to produce the Section 309 Report as required by the Act that concerned Orion and the SLS. Such foot-dragging eventually led the Democratic-controlled full Commerce Committee to threaten and then to subpoena NASA, and, in particular, emails and other communications by the Administrator, Deputy Administrator, and their staff in August 2011.
The NASA Deputy Administrator weathered all of the legislative defeats and oversight by Congress. So the question on some people’s minds is, why leave now?
Even if the Obama Administration nominated her, because of past battles with the Senate, never mind the 2011 subpoena, the drought of support for her among even Democrats means the NASA Deputy Administrator could never be confirmed for any position by the Senate. Some are openly speculating that Deputy Administrator Garver made the decision to move-on given the limited prospects of advancing in NASA beyond Deputy Administrator. But her opponents should mute their rejoicing.
So what will be the legacy of the NASA Deputy Administrator? Most certainly, the biggest historical legacy will be the 2010 defeat of a presidential initiative that represented a policy and political failure of enormous proportions. Legislative sources say another legacy of the Deputy Administrator will be her behind the scenes work that has contributed to the decline of the bipartisanship found in 2005, 2008, and 2010, but is gone today. The question remains whether that bipartisanship in debating and deciding our nation’s space leadership will ever return? Another legacy, as told by NASA sources, is the thorough distrust of NASA’s leadership, never mind the near complete lack of confidence in Charlie Bolden and Ms. Garver, among the NASA rank-and-file. In the minds of many NASA workers, there are today two NASA’s, NASA headquarters in Washington, which they try as mightily as possible to ignore, and the NASA family that is trying to keep this nation’s space program moving forward. Those same sources will say that the distrust is not just of the space agency’s leadership, but of the space media itself, which since the 2010 Great Space Debate many have seen as proxies for the Deputy Administrator.
Rather than a debate to increase NASA funding in order to afford commercial cargo and crew development side-by-side with a national space capability, the Deputy Administrator and her allies chose to fight a war of attrition that gave to one by hacking from another. Supporters of the Deputy Administrator will say that NASA’s budget would never be increased to pay for commercial space; opponents point-out that we’ll never know because neither she nor her allies even tried to grow the space agency’s budget. Every source tells us that the fight to end Constellation and replace it with a dependence upon commercial access to space has riven the space community and seeded ill-will that will take decades to diminish. In the final analysis, the NASA Deputy Administrator’s lasting legacy will surely be one of division and not unity, of decline and not growth.
Given Deputy Administrator Garver’s passionate interest in space, tenacity in seeking her goals, her willpower at staying the course, and her sheer bullheadedness it must also be assumed that her absence from the fore of space policy is only temporary and that she will return to the space policy scene in some manner. If the world of politics has a theme, it’s that rebirth is the norm.
The site has vigorously opposed the NASA Deputy Administrator’s vision for NASA in particular, and her human space flight program policies in general. An energetic policy debate is how good ideas are ferreted-out. Nobody could expect any less when discussing something as important to this nation, and its future as a great power, as the goals and means of continuing its push outward from low-Earth orbit. All of us here at AmericaSpace.com, as surely will others, look forward to future discussions about this nation’s human space flight policies, whether with Ms. Garver or others of similar policy positions.
For now however, this site’s owner, editor, and staff wish Ms. Garver and her family the very best as she pursues her new endeavors. Ad Astra!
At my opinion piece detailing why we don’t do pressers en masse, if you’ve a presser you want to paste, go there. The standard for comments is that you should…well, comment. Pasting a presser as a comment sans any context as to why the presser is newsworthy is just impolite.
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