Rockefeller to Retire

Rockefeller to Retire

Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, announced today that he will not run for reelection in 2014.  The committee has jurisdiction over policy and funding authorizations for NASA and NOAA.

Rockefeller, 75, is the last of his family’s political dynasty currently in office.  A former two-term governor of West Virginia, he was first elected to the Senate in 1984.

His home state concerns have little to do with the space program, although NASA’s Independent Verification and Validation (IV&V) facility is located there.  While he has not been an opponent of the space program, he also has not been an enthusiastic supporter.  

Rockefeller began the July 8, 2009 nomination hearing for NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and Deputy Administrator Lori Garver by asking them to address what they would do to fix all the problems at NASA.  “What do you propose to do, each of you … to take what was the inspiration of the nation, which is not today the inspiration of the nation, it is not and it needs to be in order to hold its place and to get proper funding.  It’s drifted.  I think that’s indisputable.  So what do you plan to do to change this posture?”

The question clearly surprised and temporarily stumped the two nominees.  Rockefeller later complained they had not addressed the question and asked it again.  “I characterized NASA as adrift, more a splendid story of the past. …. how are you going to reinvigorate the agency … because NASA has to be earned each year.  NASA is not a given.  No agency is a given.”

Apart from that one hearing, Rockefeller has not been in the forefront of NASA issues, leaving them to be worked by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who chairs the science and space subcommittee, and the now-retired Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), who served as ranking member of the full committee.  The Senate Republican Conference has not officially named a replacement for Hutchison as ranking member.

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