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Spacelift Washington: President-elect Bush has 90 days to appoint Aerospace Commission

By frank_sietzen
December 13, 2000
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Spacelift Washington

Spacelift Washingon Archive

President-elect George W. Bush has until March to make his six appointments to the commission on the future of the aerospace industry, one more element of the presidential transition delayed by the 36-day battle over Florida’s 25 electoral votes. The commission, long sought by many space enthusiasts and a major element of the Aerospace Industries Association 2000 political agenda, was signed into law last month by outgoing president Bill Clinton.

Under the terms of the bill creating the commission, president Bush can appoint six members of the panel, the majority party in each of the two houses of Congress can appoint two members, and the minority party can appoint one member for each of the two houses. The commission is to conduct a year-long review of the state of the nation’s aviation and space industry, with an eye towards crafting recommendations for national policy as well as budgets for specific infrastructure needs, such as research and development spending. The group is to make its final report to Bush in March, 2002.

The result of the commission might make it more palatable for the new Bush-Cheney administration to put space and aeronautics policy on the ‘back-burner’ during this hectic first year of the new Republican presidency. Which of course begs the question of who will likely be the caretakers for civil space needs while the new White House team finds its sea legs and begins crafting political coalitions in the virtually-deadlocked Congress. Look for NASA Associate Administrator Joe Rothenberg to become the acting NASA chief when Dan Goldin’s resignation takes effect next month, part of the clearing out of presidential and political appointees requested by White House Chief of Staff John Podesta prior to the disputed election. By calling for all senior appointees to hand in their written resignations, a formality usually requested by outgoing administrations, Podesta was attempting to make it easier for the new players to sort out their available slots. The urgency for change would have been significantly less had Vice-president Al Gore won the election. The expectation then was that Gore might have allowed Clinton hires to remain in place while assembling his own team.

For space watchers, that might have included allowing Dan Goldin to remain during that transition. But with the Bush-Cheney team headed for Washington, Goldin is expected to depart before his successor is named, something that might not occur until well into the first spring of the new administration. If that does occur, the Bush administration will be following a pattern set by President Richard M. Nixon. When NASA Administrator James Webb resigned in late 1968, prior to that year’s election, Thomas O. Paine became acting NASA chief and remained so well into the Nixon administration’s first year. Paine in fact was later named NASA Administrator, a fact that might not be lost on those who support Rothenberg for the space post.

But then again, the new team might have its own yet undiscovered plans for NASA. The real interest is in who will staff up the Bush National Space Council-where U.S. space policy is expected to be made and power wielded under the new administration.
Stay tuned.

Also: Look for the Clinton administration to add multilateral signatures to the U.S.-Russia space launch notification agreement, now expected to be signed shortly in Washington. While the memorandum only covers space and missile launches by the U.S. and Russian Federation, administration sources say other space powers are expected to sign on to the deal.
One question: Would that include Israel, North Korea, and China, too?

And: The 2001 forecast for the aerospace industry was released Dec. 13th by the Aerospace Industries Assocation at their annual Washington lunch. The AIA predictions for space spending continue to be bleak. While the group predicted continued growth of commercial space, primarily fed by space launch providers, overall government spending on civil and military space continues to decline. In fact, AIA said it expected NASA spending to decline next year (the 2002 budget to be released in February). As if that isn’t bad enough news, consider that Bush forces will only have about four months to shape the FY2003 budget before it is firmed up. Thus the first real budget that George W. Bush will have to make his own will be the FY2004 numbers. …

And: Look for export reform to be among the early aerospace legislative priorities upon which both Democrats and Republicans can agree. Why? According to AIA, satellite export income declined 59 percent in 2000, due to the greater restrictions and other bottlenecks imposed by the 1998 Congressional changes. Will this mean Commerce will get back satellite exports from State, yet again?



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