What It Was
The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee held a hearing to consider four presidential nominees subject to Senate confirmation, including The Honorable James Bridenstine (OK-1) to be Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Dr. Neil Jacobs to be Assistant Secretary of Commerce, Environmental Observation and Prediction at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Why It Matters
Understanding the ocean, weather, and climate is vital to our country’s national and economic security, as well as the safety of its citizens. Several leadership positions remain vacant within federal agencies responsible for ocean and weather research, which makes it challenging for the agencies to fulfill their missions. Science leadership across the federal family is paramount for ensuring national and economic security.
The hearing was designed to focus on four nominees; however, the majority of questions were posed to Rep. Bridenstine. Republicans supported his nomination and acknowledged his dedication to public service, skills as a military pilot, and personal qualities. Democrats emphasized concerns, including his stance on climate change, his ability to lead, and his partisan political ties.
Several Democratic Senators repeated quotes from Rep. Bridenstine questioning climate change and asked him if these views had changed or if he agreed with the scientific consensus that the climate is changing and greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver. When the congressman said more research is needed, Senator Schatz countered by stressing the importance of listening to scientists when one doesn’t have a scientific background. saying “I don’t have a science background, but … I defer to scientists.”
Democrats also called into question Rep. Bridenstine’s leadership experience; they pointed out the low number of employees he has directed, the small budgets he has managed, and what Ranking Member Nelson (FL) referred to as his “greatest concern” – that his time in public service does not “instill the confidence about [his] leadership or ability to bring people together.” Nearly all Democratic Senators expressed concern that his scientific and social views could alienate employees and reiterated that NASA needs an administrator who can instill confidence in people and bring ideas together.
Several Democrats questioned if Rep. Bridenstine could eliminate politics completely, with Ranking Member Nelson reminding the group that “The leader of NASA should not be bipartisan, the leader of NASA should be non-partisan. And when that has occurred that it has been partisan in the past, we’ve had a disaster.”
Rep. Bridenstine stated that he would follow the guidance of the National Academies decadal surveys, saying it is “what enables us to prevent the science from becoming partisan.”
Republicans expressed full support for Rep. Bridenstine’s nomination and were vocal in their disapproval of Democrats’ emphasis on climate change and his past statements rather than focusing on his plans to improve NASA.
In a rare line of questioning directed at someone other than Rep. Bridenstine, Chairman John Thune (SD) highlighted the difference in missions between the public and private sectors and asked Dr. Jacobs if he would “commit to making the protection of life and property a top priority,” in his role at NOAA, to which Dr. Jacobs replied in the affirmative. Dr. Jacobs also explained how he would ensure NOAA increases collaboration with the private sector by having the agency set thresholds for standards to which the private sector would then adhere.
“Should I be confirmed, it will be my intention to build off the work done by the great people at NASA during the last administration.” — The Honorable James Bridenstine (OK-1)
“I can assure the committee that I will do my absolute best to ensure this team of 12,000 professionals have the resources and leadership needed to produce transparent, objective, and defendable science, so that decisions based on this weather and climate information can be made with confidence.” — Dr. Neil Jacobs (Chief Atmospheric Scientist, Panasonic Avionics Corporation)
“I believe you’re going to get confirmed. But, I would say to my Democratic friends on this committee, that if the confirmation ends up going down to a party-line vote, I think that would be deeply unfortunate for NASA and for the space community.” – Senator Ted Cruz (TX)
“While your time as a pilot and your service to our country in the military is certainly commendable, it doesn’t make you qualified to make the complex and nuanced engineering, safety and budgetary decisions for which the head of NASA must be accountable.” – Senator Bill Nelson (FL)
The committee will meet again November 8 to vote on Rep. Bridenstine and Dr. Jacob’s nominations. If advanced, the nominations will be sent to the full Senate for confirmation.
Find Out More
- The Honorable James Bridenstine (OK-1)
- Neil Jacobs (Chief Atmospheric Scientist, Panasonic Avionics Corporation)
Related coverage from the Consortium for Ocean Leadership
Want to read more stories like this one? This story ran in COL’s weekly newsletter, Ocean News Weekly: Week of November 6, 2017 – Number 389. Read this newsletter in full here, and sign up to receive it in your inbox here.