Nelson Pats Lew on Back for Help with NASA When at OMB

Nelson Pats Lew on Back for Help with NASA When at OMB

Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) today thanked Jacob (Jack) Lew for his help on NASA issues when Lew was head of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB).   The exchange took place at Lew’s nomination hearing to become the next Secretary of the Treasury.

Lew has been serving as President Obama’s Chief of Staff since he left OMB.   The move from OMB to the Oval Office took place shortly after Lew brokered an agreement with Nelson and then-Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) on NASA’s top priorities.  Tensions were high between the Senators and the White House over what the Senators perceived as preferential treatment in NASA’s budget request for the President’s commercial crew initiative over Congress’s Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft.  


Jacob (Jack) Lew, Treasury Secretary nominee

Source:  White House website

Nelson and Hutchison crafted the 2010 NASA Authorization Act as a compromise between the President’s plan that commercial companies take over crew transportation to low Earth orbit (LEO) and their insistence that NASA immediately begin development of a new large rocket (SLS) and crew spacecraft (Orion) to take astronauts beyond LEO.

Nelson and Hutchison complained loudly that OMB was making decisions about NASA’s FY2012 budget request that favored commercial crew over SLS/Orion in contravention of that compromise.   Hutchison publicly accused the Administration of dragging its feet in announcing the design of SLS, delaying the program.   The logjam was broken in September 2011 after the two Senators insisted on a meeting with NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and Lew.

At today’s hearing before the Senate Finance Committee, Nelson lauded Lew for his help.  “There was a problem … in that OMB was continuing to try to run this country’s space program,” Nelson said, and Lew made it clear that NASA “got to administratively run the space program without OMB folks saying you do this, you do that” without regard to the authorization act and “I want you to know how much this Senator appreciates it.”   Lew’s reply was a simple “Thank you, sir.”

The outcome of the September 2011 meeting was the decision that NASA’s top three priorities are:  International Space Station/commercial crew; SLS/Orion; and the James Webb Space Telescope.  Whether that set of priorities remains in place as the years pass under constrained budgets is a tale yet to be told.

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