Senate Commerce Committee to Consider Morhard, Droegemeier Nominations Next Week

Senate Commerce Committee to Consider Morhard, Droegemeier Nominations Next Week

The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will consider the nominations of James Morhard to be NASA Deputy Administrator and Kelvin Droegemeier to be Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) next week.  Morhard’s nomination took many by surprise.  He has no aerospace experience and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine had publicly advocated for someone else.  Droegemeier’s nomination has been greeted with praise across-the-board.

Both men were required to submit written answers to a series of questions from the Commerce Committee prior to the hearing.  Their questionnaires are published on the committee’s website.

James Morhard. Screengrab from May 25, 2011 CBS segment on his surviving the Alaska plane crash that killed Sen. Ted Stevens.

Morhard, 62, is a lawyer (J.D., Georgetown) who has spent most of his career as a congressional staffer. He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in accounting and business administration, respectively.  Currently he is the Senate’s Deputy Sergeant at Arms.  Prior positions included heading the staff of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which funds all government agencies including NASA, and earlier of Senate appropriations subcommittees including Commerce-Justice-State, which includes NOAA.  It is that experience, which he describes as involving “[w]orking with people with diverse and often opposing views in the ever-changing legislative landscape [that] has often challenged me to ‘lead change,'” that he cites as qualifications for the position of NASA Deputy Administrator.

In answer to a question about why he wants the job, he replied that the “‘what, how and whys’ of NASA have to be answered to be able to keep the Committee informed as well as making sure the NASA team knows where they are, where they are heading, and what is important to the Committee.”  He added: “Also, bringing together the traditional and new space companies, as well as our international partners, into a new vision for both science and exploration is the beginning of a new era for NASA.  We must continue to be the protector of the ‘priority domain’ of space while leading the way for new and free space lanes of commerce.  These challenges are why I wish to serve in this position.”

Kelvin Droegemeier. Credit: University of Oklahoma website.

Droegemeier, 60, is a renowned meteorologist specializing in severe weather events such as thunderstorms and tornadoes. He has doctorate and master’s degree in atmospheric sciences and a bachelor’s in meteorology.

Currently the Vice President for Research at the University of Oklahoma, he served on the National Science Board, which oversees the National Science Foundation, from 2004-2016, serving as vice-chair for the last four of those years. His biography posted there notes that he “helped pioneer the science of storm-scale numerical weather forecasting.”

Among the many scientists endorsing his nomination is Marcia McNutt, President of the National Academy of Sciences.



In his questionnaire, he cites as qualifications his experience as a scientist and university leader, including significant interactions with the Washington science policy establishment and his “multi-faceted view of research, including the importance of public-private partnerships and the manner in which multiple disciplines and organizations come together to solve some of the most intellectually challenging and societally relevant problems.”  His answer to the question of why he wants to be OSTP Director: “I have unending love for my Country and passion for its science, technology and education enterprises. I want more than anything for them to thrive and to serve as beacons of leadership for the world. … Directing OSTP would be an extraordinary privilege and an opportunity for me to give back to a Nation which has given me so much.”

The hearing begins at 10:15 am ET on Thursday, August 23.  The committee webcasts its hearings on its website.  One other nominee will also be considered (for Assistant Secretary for Aviation and International Affairs at the Department of Transportation).

Correction: An earlier version of this article said that Morhard was the head of the staff (“clerk”) of the Senate Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee at one time, but when he was clerk it was the Commerce-Justice-State subcommittee and did not include NASA.  It did include NOAA and Morhard cites his involvement with NOAA’s polar and geostationary satellites at that time.  He includes NASA only in his description of his work as clerk of the full committee.

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