Holds Placed on Robinson, Wheeler Nominations; Ayotte Releases Hold on James

Holds Placed on Robinson, Wheeler Nominations; Ayotte Releases Hold on James

Yesterday, Senator David Vitter (R-LA) placed a hold on Beth Robinson’s nomination to become Under Secretary of Energy; she currently is NASA’s Chief Financial Officer. Vitter is the third Senator in recent weeks to block action on the nominations of individuals for space-related positions in the Obama Administration, although one was subsequenlty released. 

A single Senator can prevent a nomination from being considered by the Senate by placing such a hold.

Vitter claims that NASA is “stalling on a job-creating project at the Michoud Assembly Facility” near New Orleans.  His press release asserts that NASA has failed to approve contracts for the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft that would put “approximately 300 to 600 Louisianans back to work.” In his letter to Robinson, attached to the press release, he says “I think it is important to conduct a thorough review of your job performance in your current position.”   Vitter was the ranking Republican on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation’s Subcommittee on Science and Space when the 2010 NASA Authorization Act was written. That Act directed NASA to build SLS and Orion.

The first space-related hold was against the nomination of Deborah Lee James to be Secretary of the Air Force.  Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) placed the hold because she wanted assurances that, if confirmed, James would not eliminate the A-10 aircraft before a replacement (the next generation F-35) is available.    The Huffington Post noted that Ayotte’s husband is a former A-10 pilot.  Ayotte apparently received sufficient assurances because she subsequently released the hold.   Politico reports that the answer to Ayotte’s question was that the Air Force could save $3.5 billion over four years by retiring the A-10, but that no decision has been made to do that.  James has not yet been confirmed.

Last week, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) placed a hold on the nomination of Thomas Wheeler to be Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).  The Hill newspaper reports that Cruz wants Wheeler to clarify whether, if confirmed, he would require increased disclosure of who is funding political TV ads.  Cruz does not want additional disclosures.   Wheeler’s nomination was on a fast track for approval along with that of Michael O’Rielly to be an FCC Commissioner.  The FCC regulates use of the electromagnetic spectrum by the private sector and has five commissioners — three from the same party as the President and two from the other party.   At the moment there is one Democratic and one Republican vacancy and typically the Senate votes on such nominations as a pair.   Wheeler is nominated for the Democratic slot, which is also the chairman’s position; O’Rielly is the Republican.   The FCC will have to continue to operate with only three commissioners until the two nominations are approved.   Wheeler’s nomination is for a 5-year term.  O’Rielly is under consideration to fill a term that ends on June 30, 2014.

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