White House nominates NOAA administrator, NASA CFO

ORLANDO — The White House announced April 22 its intent to nominate an ocean scientist to be the next administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and a Defense Department official to be NASA’s next chief financial officer.

The White House said that it will nominate Rick Spinrad to be administrator of NOAA and undersecretary for oceans and atmosphere at the Department of Commerce, and Margaret Vo Schaus to be NASA chief financial officer. The two were part of a set of 12 nominations for positions across the government announced by the administration, all of which require Senate confirmation.

Spinrad is an ocean scientist who is currently a professor of oceanography at Oregon State University. He has alternated between the university and NOAA for much of his career. From 2003 to 2010 he was head of NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, and from 2014 to 2016 was NOAA’s chief scientist. In between, he was vice president for research at Oregon State.

While Spinrad’s background is in ocean science, as NOAA administrator he will also oversee the agency’s satellites that provide weather and climate data. NOAA is currently working on the GOES-R series of geostationary weather satellites and the Joint Polar Satellite System series of polar orbiting satellites, but is also starting to plan for a future generation of weather satellites.

NOAA is also the home of the Office of Space Commerce, which received funding in fiscal year 2021 to start taking on civil space traffic management responsibilities. That office is being combined with the Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs office, which licenses and oversees commercial satellite imaging systems.

Spinrad’s nomination has the support of Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), chair of the House Science Committee. “Having previously served as NOAA’s Chief Scientist in the Obama-Biden administration, I know that scientific integrity will be a guiding principle of Dr. Spinrad’s tenure leading NOAA, an agency that straddles the dual missions of providing both science and services,” she said in an April 23 statement.

Schaus has, for the last two years, been director of business operations in the Office of the Under Secretary of Research and Engineering at the Department of Defense. Before that she held analyst and management positions at the Departments of Energy and Justice and at the Government Accountability Office.

“Through her past work in government, Margaret has demonstrated exceptional management skills and a commitment to lifting up and supporting a diverse workforce,” NASA Acting Administrator Steve Jurczyk said in an April 22 statement about her nomination. “If confirmed, I look forward to working with Margaret and the Biden administration to develop and execute NASA’s more than $20 billion budget and ensuring the agency remains a good and responsible steward of every tax dollar invested in NASA.”

The position of chief financial officer at NASA has been vacant since February 2020, when Jeff DeWit stepped down to return to his family in Arizona, later serving on President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign. The Trump administration nominated Greg Autry, at the time a professor at the University of Southern California studying space entrepreneurship, for the post in July 2020, but the full Senate did not take up his nomination before the end of the Trump administration.

With Schaus, the White House has now nominated individuals for the three open agency leadership positions that require Senate confirmation. Bill Nelson, the former senator, was nominated to be NASA administrator March 19 and had a confirmation hearing by the Senate Commerce Committee April 21. That committee has since announced it will vote to report the nomination to the full Senate at an April 28 markup session.

The White House nominated Pam Melroy, a former astronaut who later worked at the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation and DARPA, to be NASA deputy administrator April 16. The Senate Commerce Committee has not yet announced a confirmation hearing for her nomination but, like Nelson, she has widespread support.

At his confirmation hearing, Nelson hinted that the White House would soon nominate a woman for NASA chief financial officer. “Although the White House hasn’t announced yet, they are, I think, looking at the third person in NASA — and you only Senate-confirm three — the chief financial officer,” he said. “I believe they are looking at whom we have recommended, also a woman.”

“I’m tremendously honored to be nominated by the President to be the CFO at NASA supporting Senator Nelson, Pam Melroy, and the incredible NASA mission,” Schaus said in a LinkedIn post after the White House announced her nomination.

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