Former Rep. Nick Lampson, who was a big advocate for NASA while he was in Congress, is now on the short list to become NASA's administrator.
The 64-year-old Stafford Democrat, whose Houston-area congressional district included Johnson Space Center, has joined a short list of prospective nominees for the $177,000-a-year post.
Former astronaut Charles Bolden Jr., a retired Marine Corps major general, also remains in contention, in part because of support from Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., chairman of the Senate panel that oversees NASA.
The selection of a NASA administrator has dragged on for months. It has been complicated by political divisions within the NASA community, rival candidates favored by Texas and Florida lawmakers and a White House distracted by a national economic crisis.
A bipartisan group of 14 lawmakers -- including seven Texans -- recently wrote Obama to express their concern about the absence of a NASA administrator.
Freshman Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, who defeated Lampson in November's congressional election, said he found the lengthy delay "extremely troubling," especially with NASA's budget being considered by the House and critical decisions over program milestones mounting.
"I'm very concerned that five months after the election, we've still only heard rumors from the administration regarding the next NASA administrator," said Olson, who serves as ranking Republican on the House panel that oversees NASA.
Scott Pace, a former NASA official directing George Washington University's Space Policy Institute, said Obama would be looking for a two-person leadership team on which the administrator enjoys a strong relationship with the president and Congress -- and the deputy administrator would have broad technical expertise. "Between the two officials, you need to be able to operate up and out to the White House, Congress and the public -- as well as manage down and into the agency," Pace said.
Lampson, a political moderate with friendships that cross party lines, could help the $18 billion-a-year agency negotiate the treacherous political shoals of Capitol Hill.