Today’s Tidbits: June 17, 2019

Today’s Tidbits: June 17, 2019

Here are’s tidbits for June 17, 2019:  Chris Shank resigns as head of DOD’s SCO; Trump orders cuts to number of government advisory committees.  Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

Chris Shank Resigns as Head of DOD’s SCO

Chris Shank. Credit: DOD

Chris Shank, Director of DOD’s Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO), resigned on Friday after Mike Griffin, Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (USD/R&E), informed him SCO would be relocated to DARPA, according to Breaking Defense.

SCO was created in 2012 by Ash Carter when he was Deputy Secretary of Defense to innovatively use existing technologies. Originally it reported directly to the Secretary of Defense, but in 2018 was put under USD/R&E and Griffin appointed Shank to lead it.

The FY2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) required DOD to submit a plan by March 31, 2019 on the future of the office — eliminate it, transfer, or retain it.

Griffin’s decision is to transfer it to DARPA despite language included in the committee-approved versions of the FY2020 NDAA restricting any organizational changes until certain requirements are met.   The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) says in its report on the bill, for example, that no DOD reorganization that would impact SCO can be made until DOD’s Chief Management Officer submits a report to Congress on the impact of that change. Those bills are not law, yet, at least.

Shank and Griffin have worked together for years, including when Griffin was NASA Administrator (2005-2009) and Shank was first a special assistant and later chief of strategic communications. Shank led the NASA transition team when the Trump Administration came into power and then moved over to DOD to be a special assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force and help stand up the USD/R&E office.  He left DOD to join a lobbying firm, but returned to head the SCO office last summer.

Breaking Defense reports that Griffin told Shank on Friday that the office would be transferred to DARPA and Shank resigned because his “belief and integrity in SCO’s mission is more important” than his friendship with Griffin.

With so much congressional interest, it is not clear Griffin will have the last word on this issue even if SCO is moved into DARPA before a new NDAA becomes law.

Trump Orders Cuts To Number of Government Advisory Committees

President Trump signed an Executive Order (E.O.) on Friday directing that all agencies reduce the number of advisory committees they have by one-third.

Entitled “Evaluating and Improving the Utility of Federal Advisory Committees,” the June 14 E.O. does allow agencies to request waivers, but it appears they will be few and far between.

The E.O. expects fast action.  Agency heads must tell the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) which committees it will terminate by August 1.  The OMB Director then has one month to make recommendations to Trump, and those that are designated for termination will be out of business by September 30, 2019.

Recommendations on terminating advisory committees that are required by law will be included in the FY2021 budget request.

The E.O. affects committees under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), a law enacted in 1972 to help ensure the transparency of what formal advice the government is getting and from whom.  NASA manages a dozen FACA advisory committees.

Two of NASA’s FACA committees were established by law:

  • Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, pursuant to the 1968 NASA authorization act (following the 1967 Apollo 1 fire), and
  • Applied Sciences Advisory Panel, pursuant to the 2005 NASA authorization act

Two FACA committees administered by NASA were established by White House directives:

  • National Space Council User’s Advisory Group (June 30, 2017 E.O. that reestablished the National Space Council), and
  • National Space-based Positioning, Navigation and Timing Advisory Board (National Security Presidential Directive-39, December 8, 2004, and continued by Executive Order 13811, September 29, 2017)


NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine (center) with the NASA Advisory Council, May 30, 2019. Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

FACA-chartered advisory committees established by the NASA Administrator (who reports to the President) are:

  • NASA Advisory Council (NAC)
  • International Space Station Advisory Committee
  • International Space Station National Laboratory Advisory Committee
  • Astrophysics Advisory Committee
  • Earth Science Advisory Committee
  • Heliophysics Advisory Committee
  • Human Exploration and Operations Research Advisory Committee
  • Planetary Science Advisory Committee

The last five on the list originally were subcommittees of NAC, but NASA determined they needed to be advisory committees in their own right and separated them from NAC in 2017.  Interestingly, according to NASA’s advisory committee website, their two-year charters were signed by former NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden on January 17, 2017 and have not been renewed.

NOAA has a number of advisory committees as well.  The one directly related to space is the Advisory Committee on Commercial Remote Sensing (ACCRES), which is authorized by the Secretary of Commerce.  Its 2-year charter was renewed in March 2018.

The FAA has quite a list, including the Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC), authorized by the FAA Administrator.  Its 2-year charter was renewed on June 28, 2017 according to the committee’s website.

The General Services Administration (GSA) oversees the management of the FACA committees and reports that there are about 1,000 of them government-wide.

The Trump E.O. applies to all of them, and some former officials from the EPA and Department of Interior see it as a “stealthy means to remove scientific oversight from agency rulemaking” according to The Hill.

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