Bridenstine still “in the mix” to be the next NASA administrator

U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), after testifying before the House Armed Services Committee during posture hearings at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington D.C., Feb. 26, 2014. U.S. DoD/Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Daniel Hinton

Rep. Jim Bridenstine says he’s still “in the mix” to be the next NASA administrator.

The Oklahoma Republican told a Tulsa TV station that he was recently interviewed again by the White House for the job, but doesn’t know when the administration will make a decision on the position.

“I don’t know what the end result is, but I keep interviewing, which is an indicator that maybe I’m still in the mix for it,” he said. [KOTV Tulsa]

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An Atlas 5 is set to roll out to the pad today for a Tuesday launch of a cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station. Managers gave their approval Sunday to proceed with preparations for the launch of the Cygnus cargo spacecraft Tuesday at 11:11 a.m. Eastern on a mission designated OA-7. The Orbital ATK cargo spacecraft, is carrying more than 3,400 kilograms of supplies, experiments and other hardware for the ISS. [Florida Today]

President Trump has nominated two former congressman to fill vacancies on the board of the Ex-Im Bank. The White House announced late Friday that the president nominated former Reps. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) and Spencer T. Bachus III (R-Ala.) to fill two of the three vacancies on the board, with Garrett serving as president. Garrett, while in Congress, was a staunch opponent of the bank, dubbing its lending practices “crony capitalism,” while Bachus was a supporter of the bank. Ex-Im currently lacks a quorum on its five-member board, which prevents it from approving large deals, such as financing for commercial satellites and launches. [SpaceNews]

A letter signed by 20 members of Congress asks the Pentagon not to change its current plans to support development of new launch systems. The letter, sent to Secretary of Defense James Mattis last week, called on him to maintain the current program that is supporting development of complete launch systems, rather than focus on components such as engines. The bipartisan letter’s signatories include Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee. The letter comes after some leading members of the committee suggested that the Air Force should have a say in what engine United Launch Alliance chooses for its Vulcan vehicle, views that they have since backed away from. [SpaceNews]

A leading Air Force official says the service needs more people working in space intelligence roles. At a breakfast Friday, Lt. Gen. David Buck, commander of the 14th Air Force and leader of the Joint Functional Component Command for Space under U.S. Strategic Command, says space units in the Air Force have far fewer intelligence specialists than those under the Air Combat Command. Buck said discussions are already underway within the Air Force about getting more intelligence personnel into space units. [SpaceNews]

The general in command of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station says he’s been asked to stay on the job an extra year. Air Force Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith was expected to complete a two-year tour of duty this summer as commander of the 45th Space Wing. However, he said he’s been asked by Gen. Jay Raymond, the head of Air Force Space Command, to remain as commander for an additional year. Monteith said he will use the additional time to continue initiatives to streamline operations, including the ability to support two launches within one day. [Florida Today]

Raytheon says its ground control system for GPS is back on track after serious cost and schedule problems. A company executive in charge of the OCX program said the program has hit every milestone since implementing a series of “corrective actions” after those problems, which attracted attention, and criticism, from both Air Force leadership and members of Congress. The Defense Department declared a Nunn-McCurdy breach for OCX last June, putting it at risk of cancellation, but approved plans in October to correct its problems. [SpaceNews]

United Launch Alliance is planning to lay off 48 workers at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. A Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification, or WARN, report released by a state agency last week said the layoffs would take effect June 1. The layoffs are part of a broader effort by ULA to reduce jobs, primarily through voluntary departures. [Lompoc (Calif.) Record]

Britain’s role in several major space projects will be part of the negotiations about the country’s departure from the European Union. Elżbieta Bieńkowska, the senior space official for the European Commission, said earlier this month that the commission will seek to keep the majority of the work on the Galileo and Copernicus satellite programs within member nations, which could affect British companies currently involved in those programs. The U.K.’s decision to leave the E.U., known as Brexit, does not affect its work on European Space Agency programs, as Britain remains a member of ESA. [Spaceflight Now]

Trump nominates two former congressmen to Ex-Im Bank board

U.S. Export-Import Bank. Credit: House Minority Whip

WASHINGTON — The White House announced April 14 that President Donald Trump had nominated to the board of the Export-Import Bank two former members of Congress, one of them a staunch critic of the bank’s lending practices.

The nominees, if confirmed by the Senate, would restore a quorum to the board and allow it to resume approving deals valued at more than $10 million, including those for commercial satellites and launches.

In a statement issued late April 14, the White House announced that President Trump was nominating Scott Garrett, a former Republican congressman from New Jersey, to be president of the bank for a four-year term lasting until January 2021. He also nominated Spencer T. Bachus III, a former Republican congressman from Alabama, to fill another vacancy on the board until January 2019.

Garrett, who served six terms in the House of Representatives before losing reelection in 2016, was known as a critic of the bank while in Congress, dubbing its practices “crony capitalism.” “The proposal before us is the resurrection of a bank that embodies the corruption of the free enterprise system,” he said in a speech on the House floor in October 2015, opposing a bill to reauthorize the bank after its authorization lapsed that July.

Bachus, by contrast, was a supporter of Ex-Im during his 11 terms in the House, including two years as chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, where he shepherded the passage of an earlier reauthorization bill in 2012. He retired from the House after the 2014 elections.

While the Ex-Im Bank was reauthorized in late 2015, a lack of a quorum on the board prevents the bank from approving deals valued at more than $10 million. Currently three of the board’s five seats are vacant. It’s not known when, or if, the president plans to nominate an individual to fill the third vacancy.

The nominations reflect a change in positions by the president regarding the Ex-Im Bank. During the campaign, Trump suggested the bank was no longer necessary. In February, President Trump made no mention of bank during a speech at a Boeing aircraft factory in South Carolina, despite suggestions he would discuss the bank’s future there. A day later, the New York Times reported that the bank was one of nine agencies being considered for closure by the White House Office of Management and Budget.

However, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal April 12, Trump said he now supported the bank and would seek to fill vacancies on the board. He noted that the bank helped small businesses as well as large ones, and that companies in other countries are aided by similar export credit agencies.

The Aerospace Industries Association, which has supported Ex-Im for its role in financing both aircraft and space deals, welcomed the nominations. It said in an April 15 statement that, because of the lapsed authorization and the lack of a quorum needed for larger deals, financing for satellite and launch deals dropped from nearly $1 billion in 2014 to $4 million in 2015.

“Ex-Im Bank support is critical for U.S. exporters in the aerospace and defense industry – both large companies and their small and medium suppliers,” the organization said in its statement. “With a level playing field, we can compete and win based on the quality of our products and services rather than financing.”

Commercial satellite manufacturers also reiterated their support for the bank in recent weeks. “It’s still critically needed,” Mark Spiwak, president of Boeing Satellite Systems International, said of Ex-Im at the Satellite 2017 conference in March. “We’ve lost several competitions and haven’t been a part of competitions because of the inability of customers to get Ex-Im. Customers that we have signed up recently have said we’ve found a way, but we still need Ex-Im.”

The nominations announced April 14 require Senate confirmation. The vacancies on the current board exist in part because the Senate failed to take up nominations made by the Obama administration in its last two years in office.