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Sean O Keefe

August 10, 2010 by staff 

Sean O Keefe, Washington Post – While most coverage of Alaska plane crash on Tuesday focused on former Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), many in Washington and the business world and academia are familiar with another passenger on the plane, Sean O’Keefe (no relation to Ed).

O’Keefe, 54, and his teenage son Kevin survived the accident with multiple injuries, according to the Associated Press. The news service quoted a former NASA spokesman, who said he had spoken with the O’Keefe family.

Sean O’Keefe. One of many senior government officials that weave between the public and private, O’Keefe has served on Capitol Hill, in the executive branch, and more recently as an executive of EADS North America, sitting at the intersection of government and business and led the company’s efforts to win a mammoth Pentagon contract to build a new generation of air tankers for the military.

O’Keefe began his Washington career as a Presidential Management Intern (now known as Presidential Management Fellows) and later served as a member of the senior staff of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He specialized in defense spending and became close to powerful Republicans in the Senate as Stevens (O’Keefe who in 2003 called “one of the best friends I have in the world”) and then Rep. Dick Cheney.

As secretary of defense, Cheney used O’Keefe as chief financial officer of the Department of Defense in 1989. He turned to him again in 1992, O’Keefe was appointed secretary of the Navy following the Tailhook sexual harassment scandal. O’Keefe oversaw an investigation into the scandal that led to the resignation of two Navy admirals and the reassignment of a third party.

“We understand,” he told reporters at the time. “We know that the biggest problem is a cultural problem which has allowed demeaning and attitudes toward women to exist within the Navy.”

The Tailhook scandal was only the first of several high-profile incidents O’Keefe to control it.

“We found in difficult places everywhere,” said Max Stier, president of the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service. O’Keefe Stier recruited to join the board 10 years ago.

O’Keefe spent the Clinton years in academia, teaching at universities in Penn State and Syracuse. He returned to government during the administration of George W. Bush, s’, serving briefly in the Office of Management and Budget and then as administrator of NASA.

Although he lacked formal training in science or engineering, O’Keefe’s reputation for cost control and accounting problems unravel earned the support of Congress for the job.

NASA was struggling at that time with cost overruns for the International Space Station. He promised during his Senate confirmation hearing to “put its house in order,” space station and brought spending under control. Then came the Columbia space shuttle disaster in February 2003.

Seven astronauts died in the accident and after O’Keefe walked a delicate line between moral protection agency and satisfactory consultation from Congress and the press. Although messages was criticized by the decisions, such as limiting access to NASA documents and e-mail relating to the accident, O’Keefe was greatly praised for the way he handled open the accident – especially in contrast with evasiveness of the agency after the space shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986.

The relentless scrutiny had his personal effects. “Every day,” O’Keefe said during the investigation, “is like a year.”

Known in the circles of NASA as “a budget, not a rocketeer,” became a staunch advocate of continued space exploration and played a key role in the orientation of the president’s decisions on the mission of the agency after Columbia. His defense led to Bush’s announcement in 2004 of NASA’s new Vision for Space Exploration, a plan to return to the moon, the journey to Mars and further exploration of the solar system.

But O’Keefe stirred controversy at the end of his mandate when NASA decided not to send a manned spacecraft to repair the popular Hubble Space Telescope, a decision later overturned by his successor. It was also criticized after a Government Accountability Office report revealed the agency spent and additional 20 million to fly NASA’s top officials in government aircraft instead of commercial flights.

O’Keefe resigned as NASA in 2005 and became chancellor of Louisiana State University, joining the school just before Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. He left in 2008 to join EADS.

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