NASA's bad news just keeps on rollin'.
Another Bush/Cheney/Rove flunkie has been given a sweet job at NASA. Jane Cherry, a Karl Rove staffer, is now NASA's White House liaison. It's unclear if, like George Deutsch, she is totally unqualified for the job, or, like Patrick Rhode, she was placed there to get her out of a less-than-flattering spotlight on the White House.
Maybe neither. But c'mon, have you been paying attention lately? Maybe it's both.
Ms. Cherry worked for White House Deputy Chief of Staff (and top Presidential advisor) Karl Rove, and is up to her neck in the scandal - if you can keep them all straight -- where White House staffers were using an RNC email address for official business, which is, to say the least, incredibly suspicious. Moreover, she was one of the Top Ten users of that email address.
Moreover, Ms. Cherry is involved in the scandal involving the removal of U.S. Attorneys for political reasons.
Her career has certainly shot her up the ladder; she went from a relatively obscure staff position in Alabama (making about $24,000 a year from the RNC) to staff at the White House ($30,000 a year) to the now White Liaison for NASA in less than 4 years, where she will pull down between $110,000 and $143,000 annually.
From the reading I have done, her qualifications to be NASA's White House liaison are probably good... given her experience in the White House. This NASA document lists the WHL responsibilities:
The White House Liaison will provide the following: (1) Direct handling procedures for the correspondence from the Executive Office of the President. (2) Provide liaison between the Executive Office of the President and NASA and prescribe special procedures for the Agency`s management of specific correspondence and related actions from the Executive Office of the President.
Hmm, nothing in there about telling the President when someone at NASA accidentally says something accurate and truthful about science so they can be smeared or squashed, so that's a plus. Though I suppose part (2) of the above could be interpreted that way.
Of course, NASA is a government agency and historically has had lots of political appointments in key positions -- that's only natural. But the history over the past few years here is very clear: we have seen countless times that this Administration has placed totally incompetent people into critical government positions, and many times putting the worst possible person into that position.
So forgive me for being a tad bit suspicious.
We'll see where this goes. It's completely possible that this position is largely irrelevant, or that it can do no further damage. It's also possible that Ms. Cherry will be used as yet another way this Administration will muzzle, trample, strangle, distort, and otherwise spin, fold, and mutilate science. NASA is having a bad time of it right now, in a larger setting of trying to do some real science and some real exploration while shifting over from one major system (the Shuttle) to another (Constellation). They hardly need this bit of drama in their lives too. There are some good things going on right now; for example putting Alan Stern in as Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, and having Dan Durda there as well. These guys will not only do good by NASA, they'll do great. They're also launching Phoenix and Dawn soon, and there's still a lot of good stuff coming up that's easy to forget in the midst of all the woes.
But for every step forward, this White House seems to want to take a monstrous step back. We're still losing ground, and I wonder how far back we'll go before we lose sight of what's ahead.