Saunders Replaces DeWit as NASA CFO

Saunders Replaces DeWit as NASA CFO

NASA has a new acting Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Melanie Saunders, replacing Jeff DeWit who resigned last week.  Saunders was Deputy Associate Administrator and her replacement on an acting basis is Cathy Mangum, who has been Associate Director of Langley Research Center.

Melanie Saunders. Credit: NASA

DeWit was confirmed by the Senate as NASA’s CFO and reported for duty in April 2018, not quite two years ago.  He sent a letter to colleagues last week saying that he was returning to Arizona to spend more time with his family, which has remained there while he worked in D.C.  He had been the COO and CFO of President Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and State Treasurer of Arizona.

Saunders will have to be confirmed by the Senate as well, although the CFO position usually is non-controversial and considered under expedited Senate procedures that do not require a hearing or vote by committee, only a vote by the full Senate.

She became NASA Deputy Associate Administrator in June 2018 after a long career at Johnson Space Center (JSC) that included serving as associate manager of the International Space Station program (2005-2009), JSC Associate Director (2009-2018), and JSC Acting Deputy Director (February -June 2018).  She has a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a J.D. from the University of California, Davis.

In a memo to employees, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said: “Melanie is a well-respected leader and has experience managing billion-dollar organizations. Her current experience and previous roles as Associate Center Director at Johnson and International Space Station Associate Program Manager will be valuable as we move forward with Artemis and our Moon to Mars efforts.”

Saunders was the deputy to NASA Associate Administrator (AA) Steve Jurczyk.  The AA position is the third top spot at the agency and the highest ranking civil servant.  The CFO, Deputy Administrator and Administrator positions are political appointments.

Cathy Mangum. Credit: NASA

Replacing Saunders on an acting basis is Cathy Mangum, who has been serving as associate director of NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA.   Jurczyk was Director of Langley before coming to headquarters in 2015 to head the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD).  He moved up to AA in March 2018.

Mangum began working for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate as a contractor in 1983. In 1988, she became a NASA employee as an IT manager for  the Aeronautics Mission Directorate.  She moved to Langley in 1996 and served in several positions including Chief Information Officer and most recently Associate Director, essentially the Center’s Chief Operating Officer.  Her bachelor’s degree is in information management from James Madison University.

In his memo, Bridenstine said: “We’re fortunate to have senior leaders across the agency, like Cathy, who are ready to step up when asked. She has been doing a great job leading efforts at Langley and I look forward to her joining the Headquarters team.”

These changes continue a pattern of personnel moves at headquarters and the NASA Centers since Bridenstine became Administrator in April 2018.  Such changes are not unusual, but DeWit’s departure was quite unexpected.

At the top echelons of the agency, Bridenstine has appointed the heads of three of the four Mission Directorates.  Only Thomas Zurbuchen, AA for the Science Mission Directorate (SMD), holds the same job as when Bridenstine arrived.

Jurczyk headed STMD until March 2018 when he was made acting AA the month before Bridenstine arrived.  Bridenstine later appointed him to the position.  Jurczyk’s deputy, Jim Reuter, became the acting head of STMD, but the Trump Administration wanted to abolish STMD and merge it with the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD) to focus efforts on sending humans to the Moon and Mars.  Congress did not approve that idea, however, and Reuter was permanently appointed to head STMD in June 2019.  Bill Gerstenmaier was replaced by Doug Loverro as head of HEOMD last year.  Jaiwon Shin retired as head of the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD) in August 2019.  His deputy, Robert Pearce, succeeded him.

Five of the directors of the nine NASA civil service field centers (Glenn, Goddard, Johnson, Langley, and Marshall) have resigned or retired.  All were replaced by their deputies, except for Goddard, whose deputy retired.  The current Directors of those centers are Marla Pérez-Davis (Glenn), Dennis Andrucyk (Goddard), Mark Geyer (Johnson), Clayton Turner (Langley), and Jody Singer (Marshall).

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