28-Nov-2020 Aviation Week's NASA Chief Plans To Step Aside Under Biden quotes former NASA director Jim Bridenstine saying:

“The right question here is ‘What’s in the best interest of NASA as an agency, and what’s in the best interest of America's exploration program?’” Bridenstine said on Nov. 8, the day after Democrat Joe Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

“For that, what you need is somebody who has a close relationship with the president of the United States. You need somebody who is trusted by the administration…. including the OMB [Office of Management and Budget], the National Space Council and the National Security Council, and I think that I would not be the right person for that in a new administration,” Bridenstine said.

So clearly the position of Director of NASA is a politically appointed position.

Question: How many politically appointed positions are there at NASA in toto? Is it just the one?

Further background: Ars Technica's Jim Bridenstine is leaving NASA. How should we assess his 30-month tenure?

  • $\begingroup$ @PearsonArtPhoto in toto is a latin expression frequently used in English, rather than a mipselling (1, 2, 3) and where I restate the question the body I have italicized it to indicate this. As far as I know there is no way to italicize the latin phrase in the title, but if there is, that would be great! $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Feb 2, 2021 at 0:24
  • $\begingroup$ @PearsonArtPhoto consensus (including me) is that the edit was a great idea, thanks! $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Feb 9, 2021 at 0:12
  • $\begingroup$ Then again... :-) $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Aug 6, 2021 at 9:51

1 Answer 1


There are four positions in NASA that require Senate confirmation:

  • Administrator,
  • Deputy Administrator,
  • Chief Financial Officer, and
  • Inspector General.

Even though Inspectors General do need Senatorial confirmation, they are not viewed as political appointees. For example, the current NASA Inspector General has served since November 2009. On the other hand, the Administrator, Deputy Administrator, and Chief Financial Officer are political positions. All three resigned on or shortly after January 20, 2021 with the change of administration.

These political appointees can hire other people to help them do their jobs, without Senate confirmation. This is understandable; if you were running the show, would you want someone foisted upon you by the civil service to manage things, or would you want someone you knew and trusted? NASA has a Chief of Staff, Deputy Chief of Staff, and various Associate Administrators. Many of these resigned on or shortly after January 20, 2021 with the change of administration. NASA also has executive assistants and office assistants whose jobs are to aid the people above them. Some are high level; others are GS-9 (rather low level). Some appear to not have updated their LinkedIn pages, so it's hard to tell exactly which of these many people with non civil service career positions have now resigned.

A good place to start is the Plum Book. Any position that is not a "Career Appointment" might well be a political appointment or a result of a political appointment.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ The current NASA Inspector General was literally appointed by a politician so while it may be true that they are not viewed as being particularly political, neither was the US Postmaster General until recently. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Feb 1, 2021 at 12:31
  • $\begingroup$ I have a lower threshold. Any SES position is the point where I consider the position to be political (mostly because of how they are chosen), but there are too many of those to name ;) I don't necessarily consider this a bad thing, it's just a matter of how and why and individual is selected in SES vs career civil service positions. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 24, 2021 at 15:41

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