Press Release

NASA Names Leaders to Key Agency Roles

By SpaceRef Editor
February 1, 2021
Filed under ,

NASA has named appointees for senior agency positions. Bhavya Lal joins the agency as acting chief of staff, Phillip Thompson will serve as White House liaison, Alicia Brown will serve as associate administrator for the Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs, and Marc Etkind will serve as associate administrator for the agency’s Office of Communications. In addition, Jackie McGuinness will join the agency as press secretary and Reagan Hunter will serve as special assistant for the agency’s Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs.

Bhavya Lal, Acting Chief of Staff

Lal brings extensive experience in engineering and space technology, serving as a member of the research staff at the Institute for Defense Analyses Science and Technology Policy Institute (STPI) from 2005 to 2020. There, she led analysis of space technology, strategy, and policy for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and National Space Council, as well as federal space-oriented organizations, including NASA, the Department of Defense, and the intelligence community.

Lal is an active member of the space technology and policy community, having chaired, co-chaired, or served on five high-impact National Academy of Science committees. She served two consecutive terms on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Federal Advisory Committee on Commercial Remote Sensing and was an External Council member of NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts Program and the Technology, Innovation and Engineering Advisory Committee of the NASA Advisory Council. Before joining STPI, Lal was president of C-STPS LLC, a science and technology policy research and consulting firm. Prior to that, she was the director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Studies at Abt Associates, a global policy research consultancy based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Lal will also serve as the senior advisor for budget and finance at NASA. Read her full bio.

Phillip Thompson, White House Liaison

Phillip Thompson comes to NASA after serving as the coalitions advisor to the coordinated campaign to help elect Sen. Jon Ossoff and Sen. Rafael Warnock in the U.S. Senate runoff elections in Georgia. In the general election, Thompson served as Georgia Coalitions Director for President Biden, where he led a team to help engage one of the most diverse electorates in history.

Thompson also has advised state and local officials on public engagement in Arizona, California, Texas, and Hawaii, as director of candidate development for the Leadership for Educational Equity. While helping build campaigns, Phillip led the political research firm, The Maccabee Group as a former partner, advising members of Congress in New Mexico and Nevada, as well as efforts in Ohio and North Carolina. He has dedicated much of his career to community infrastructure and advocacy, previously serving as deputy executive director of the Florida Democratic Party and former campaign manager at the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Read his bio.

Alicia Brown, Associate Administrator, Office of Legislative and Interagency Affairs

Brown joins NASA with extensive experience in government and government relations. Brown will direct a staff responsible for managing correspondence and requests for information received from the U.S. Congress and handling requests for legislative material, as well as serve as a senior advisor to agency leaders on legislative matters.  

Prior to joining NASA, from 2015 to January 2021, Brown served as a professional staff member for the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, including the Subcommittee on Aviation and Space and the Subcommittee on Science, Oceans, Fisheries, and Weather. In this role, she helped develop space legislation and performed oversight on policy and programs for multiple agencies, including NASA. Prior to that, she served as government relations manager for Harris Corporation. 

Brown also has experience advising on policy regarding space programs, national security, and the defense budget as a legislative aide to former Sen. Bill Nelson. Read her full bio.

Marc Etkind, Associate Administrator, Office of Communications

Etkind joins NASA with more than two decades of experience in development, production, content strategy, and management for science-based programming organizations. Etkind directs internal and external communications for NASA and serves as a senior advisor to agency leaders. He is responsible for managing an agencywide staff of more than 200 that implements all aspects of NASA’s external and internal communications.

Previously, Etkind served as general manager for the Science Channel, part of Discovery Inc., a position he began in 2015. In that capacity, he was responsible for all aspects of development, production, brand strategy, and day-to-day operations for the network.

Etkind brought back to the network the robot competition “BattleBots,” launched STEM-focused “MythBusters Jr,” initiated the network’s live coverage of the Great American Eclipse and NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 Mission to the International Space Station, and commissioned award-winning specials, including “Cassini’s Grand Finale” and “History of Pluto.”

Prior to that, Etkind served Discovery Inc. as general manager and senior vice president for content strategy for Destination America and vice president for development for Animal Planet. In addition, his experience includes serving as senior director of programming for the History Channel and founder and CEO of Pinball Productions. Etkind’s credits include “NOVA,” “Scientific American Frontiers with Alan Alda,” “Discover Magazine,” “This Week in History,” “How It’s Made,” and “How the Universe Works,” as well as exhibits for the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago and many more. Read his full bio.

Jackie McGuinness, Press Secretary

Most recently, McGuiness served as communications director for U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell of Alabama, where she worked on a host of issues, including the congresswoman’s work on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Previously, she served as Florida press secretary on President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign and press secretary for U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, the former Ranking Member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee with oversight over NASA. Read her full bio.

Reagan Hunter, Special Assistant, Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs

Hunter joins NASA after previously working at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston from 2012 to 2019. Providing support to the associate administrator for OLIA, Hunter maintains relationships between NASA and the U.S. Congress and promotes agency programs, initiatives, and goals. While at Johnson, Hunter worked in the Office of the Chief Financial Officer as a program analyst primarily supporting the center’s Engineering Directorate. Read his bio.

For more information on NASA and agency programs, visit:

SpaceRef staff editor.