By Senior space writer
updated 12/14/2004 8:32:45 PM ET 2004-12-15T01:32:45

The resignation Monday of NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe comes at a time when the agency has a budgetary window of opportunity to flex its space exploration muscle, but must still deal with an agenda of thorny issues.

In his resignation letter to President Bush, the NASA Administrator wrote: "I will continue until you have named a successor and in the hope the Senate will act on your nomination by February."

House of Representative’s Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., issued a statement regarding O’Keefe’s decision to leave the top NASA post.

"I was sorry to hear of Sean O'Keefe's decision to step down as he has been an effective and forward-looking leader for NASA over the past three years. Sean leaves NASA in far better shape than he found it," Boehlert said.

"We look forward to working with whomever the President appoints as the next administrator to build on and give further shape to Sean's efforts to ensure that NASA has a balanced, affordable and far-seeing portfolio of programs," Boehlert said.

Serious problems
In a written statement, U.S. Representative Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., thanked O’Keefe for his service to NASA, underscoring his stewardship during the tragic Columbia space shuttle accident in February 2003. "However, his successor is going to have some serious problems to address," Gordon said, pointing to:

  • Returning the Shuttle to flight safely;
  • Dealing with the financial and cost management issues that continue to plague the agency;
  • Ensuring that adequate resources are provided to maintain a world-class workforce and infrastructure;
  • Reconciling the agency's goals with the constrained budgets it is likely to be facing in the years ahead. 

"I hope that the White House will move quickly to nominate an individual with the managerial and technical skills that will be needed for the challenges ahead," Gordon said.

NASA: important national asset
Former NASA Chief of Staff and White House liaison, Courtney Stadd, said that, first and foremost, there should be no ambiguity that U.S. President Bush is 100 percent committed to the exploration initiative outlined in January.

NASA’s 2005 budget victory to move forward the Moon, Mars and beyond plan is a clear indication that President Bush views NASA "as an important national asset, and as a priority … and is willing to fight for it," Stadd told SPACE.com.

"I believe the selection of a Sean O’Keefe successor will be done in a very deliberate fashion," Stadd advised. "There’s no doubt in my mind that they will be looking for someone who is going to make a total commitment to staying the course for the next four years. We know a lot can happen, both good and bad in four years," he said.

Prior to his NASA work, Stadd headed the Presidential transition team in December 2000 to oversee leadership changes at the civilian space agency, taking on his NASA tasks from January 2001 until July 2003. He is now President of Capitol Solutions, an aerospace management consulting firm based in Washington, D.C.

Eyes of history
"NASA is an agency with all of its moving parts … you’ve got to think in terms of the team," Stadd stated.

During O’Keefe’s tenure, the space agency chief showed a willingness to take on some of the hard decisions, Stadd added, particularly in the financial and management arenas. "I think he deserves credit for that. It will be reserved for the historians to determine the ultimate standing of those decisions in the eyes of history."

Stadd said that O’Keefe should be praised for the way he dealt with the Columbia trauma. "The open and full disclosure approach that he took, I think, was a good legacy. It set an important precedent in the unfortunate event that the agency faces another disaster."

"The compassion and dealing with the families under extraordinarily tough circumstances was also to his credit … one of my strongest memories in my working with him as Chief of Staff," Stadd explained.

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