Ending months of speculation, President George W. Bush has nominated Sean O'Keefe, currently the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and an influential Washington insider, to NASA's top job. O'Keefe, 45, replaces Dan Goldin, who leaves the post on 16 November.
O'Keefe has close connections to both Bush presidents and to Vice President Dick Cheney, having served in the first Bush Administration as Navy secretary and Defense Department comptroller. Senate confirmation is expected to be speedy. And O'Keefe's assignment is clear: "He is being sent to NASA to ensure fiscal responsibility," says one senior Administration official. "He will force things to be on time and on budget."
O'Keefe's immediate task likely will be to address the concerns of NASA's international space station partners, who are angry at moves to scale back from six to three astronauts on the station, initiated by O'Keefe at OMB (Science, 16 November, p. 1431). But even if it adheres to O'Keefe's more modest vision, NASA will be hard pressed to resolve station cost overruns.
A second major crisis is brewing in the outer-planet exploration program. Congress put $30 million into the 2002 budget for a flyby of Pluto, a program the White House had terminated. But an OMB official warned on 15 November that the White House is unlikely to support Pluto funding in 2003 and that there is barely enough money to fund a mission to Jupiter's moon Europa, slated for launch around 2008. That could put the Europa mission in jeopardy. And, with competing demands for the war on terrorism and the economic stimulus package, finding the extra dollars will be tough.
Although O'Keefe has found fault with NASA in the past--just last week he criticized the agency in Congress for its cost overruns and poor management--William Smith, president of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, notes that OMB has been largely supportive of space science and that O'Keefe likely will continue that tradition. Still, O'Keefe's strong connections to senior Administrative officials are unusual for a NASA chief. "The Bush Administration clearly didn't want a space cadet," says John Logsdon, political science professor at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.