Leadership and Change at NASA: Sean O’Keefe as Administrator


W. Henry Lambright is a professor of public administration and political science in the Maxwell School at Syracuse University. He is the author or editor of seven books and more than 250 articles, papers, and reports. His books include a biography, Powering Apollo: James E. Webb of NASA (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995). His current research focuses on leadership and change at NASA since the end of the Cold War.
E-mail: whlambri@maxwell.syr.edu


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Sean O’Keefe was administrator of NASA a little more than three years. In that eventful and turbulent period, he dealt with numerous issues. Appointed to cope with a huge cost overrun on the International Space Station, he was soon engulfed in the Columbia shuttle accident and its investigation. Subsequently, he engineered a presidential decision that NASA return to the moon and go eventually to Mars. He also sought to terminate the immensely popular Hubble Space Telescope. The Moon-Mars decision was O’Keefe’s most important achievement, as that involving Hubble was his most controversial action. This essay tracks O’Keefe’s role at NASA as a case study in leadership and change.