Republicans pitch new oversight, 10-year term for NASA chief

Citing systemic problems and a lack of vision within NASA, House Republicans have proposed a new board to run the space agency -- helmed by an administrator appointed to a decade-long term.

The radical rethinking of how NASA is governed would make the agency less beholden to partisan politics and more tied to hard science, argued Rep. John Culberson, R-Tex., a co-sponsor of the bill and a member of the Commerce-Justice-Science Subcommittee which funds NASA.

“We have filed this bill today to make NASA less political and more professional by modeling their internal leadership after the FBI and the National Science Foundation,” Culberson said in a statement late last week.

“We also plan to make NASA funding more stable and predictable by enabling them to design and build new rockets and new spacecraft in the same way that the Navy designs and builds new submarines and ships.  These reforms will save money and help their budget go farther in tough times.”

The Space Leadership Act would create an 11-member board of directors made up of former astronauts and scientists. This board would prepare a draft budget to be submitted simultaneously to the legislative and executive branches, according to a summary on Science Insider.

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The board would also be responsible for selecting a list of candidates for the positions of NASA administrator, deputy administrator, and chief financial officer, from which the president would choose. The bill would also grant the administrator a fixed, 10-year term rather than the current, open-ended appointment.

It was endorsed by Captain Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon and a frequent critic of NASA’s recent decision to end the space shuttle program and largely cede space flight to the nascent private industry.

“America’s Space Program is just that – AMERICA’S Space Program,” Cernan said in a statement.  “It has been a bi-partisan commitment in the Congress since the days of JFK’s challenge to go to the moon.  But, it has lacked long-term stability and focus because of the constantly changing political whims of the Executive Branch of government.”

“This legislation is critical to providing the much needed continuity for the future of NASA’s far-reaching goals in space.”

In addition to Culberson, the bill is co-sponsored by Representatives Bill Posey, R-Fl.; Pete Olson, R-Tex.; and Frank Wolf, R-Va., who chairs the House appropriations subcommittee responsible for NASA's budget.