NASA Admin Update: Gration Headed for Africa

The New York Times reports that we can scratch one more person off the list of possible NASA administrators:

President Obama plans to appoint a close adviser and retired general to be his special envoy to Sudan as the administration ratchets up pressure against the government in Khartoum for expelling humanitarian relief organizations from the ravaged region of Darfur, administration officials said Tuesday.

Mr. Obama will tap Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, a Swahili-speaking retired Air Force officer who grew up in Africa as the son of missionaries, to take on one of the most delicate diplomatic missions of his presidency, according to three administration officials, who were not authorized to discuss the selection before the official announcement on Wednesday.

Gration’s name had been floated a while back, although it seems to have been rejected by key Congressional leaders on the grounds that he did not have enough space experience.

Other names discussed have include retired Air Force Gen. Lester Lyles, former astronaut Charles Bolden, and Steve Isakowitz, a former NASA associate administrator who is now CFO for the Energy Department. It seems that Isakowitz is out of the running because of opposition from key Congressional leaders resulting from his role in killing a clean coal facility.

Meanwhile, there is growing discomfort over the agency’s lack of a permanent administrator since Mike Griffin resigned two months ago. Florida Today – which editorialized about the need to quickly name a replacement – reported that unrest is growing in the House:

A group of NASA-friendly House members are urging President Barack Obama to name a new agency chief as soon as possible, saying NASA “needs decisive leadership” to oversee changes related to next year’s retirement of the space shuttles.

Government auditors named the grounding of the shuttles, along with the consequent five-year U.S. reliance on Russia for access to the International Space Shuttle, as one of the most urgent items facing the Obama administration, lawmakers pointed out in their letter.

“We believe it is imperative for NASA to have a leader who understands the implications of a five year or longer hiatus in America’s independent access to space,” according to the letter from the NASA House Action Team, co-chaired by Rep. Suzanne Kosmas, the New Smyrna Beach Democrat whose district includes Kennedy Space Center.

I tend to agree. This appointment should be made sooner than later. There are too many things being held up by the uncertainty of this situation.