Al Kamen
Al Kamen
In the Loop

The Norsemen of NASA?

Ved Chirayath - NASA Ames Center Director Dr. Simon P. Worden poses alongside the Vikings of Bjornstad for this photograph.

We’ve seen IRS workers dressed as characters from “Star Trek” and “Gilligan’s Island.”

So perhaps it’s not at all odd that NASA folks would don a little Viking garb.

Al Kamen

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. He began his reporting career at the Rocky Mountain News and joined The Post in 1980. He has covered local and federal courts, the Supreme Court and the State Department. Follow him on Twitter.

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NASA Ames Research Center Director Simon Worden and several members of his staff are among the band of Vikings portrayed in a photographic series shot by Bay Area photographer Ved Chirayath, who describes his work as using “cutting-edge photography” to “channel people’s scientific curiosity.”

The photographs portray the civil-servants-turned-Vikings in a woodland setting (it’s a park in Palo Alto, Calif.), charging toward several futuristic-looking satellites. There’s dramatic lighting and convincing costumes. Worden’s wearing an armored helmet that would look at home on the set of “The Lord of the Rings.”

Under the photos, the artist describes his vision: “NASA Ames Research Center leads the charge in small satellite innovation and development while evoking the Viking spirit of exploration and adventure.”

Not everyone, though, is impressed.

Sen. Chuck Grassley wrote to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, asking him to explain a few things.

“I am concerned that in NASA’s case, federal tax dollars may still be spent on non-mission critical activities,” the Iowa Republican wrote.

Grassley asked Bolden to provide a host of information, including whether the NASA employees used company time or other official resources for the photo shoot, whether folks back at NASA knew about the project, and whether the agency will receive any funds, presumably from the sale of the photos.

A NASA spokesman tells the Loop that the agency is working on a full response to Grassley’s questions but he assures us there’s nothing untoward here.

“This was not an official NASA activity,” he said. “No taxpayer funds were used, and the employees involved did not do this on work time.”

The photographer, too, seems puzzled by the inquiry. Chirayath, a graduate student at Stanford, says the shoestring shoot was staffed with volunteers, and what little money it cost was funded by a small grant he got from Stanford. “No one’s making a penny from this — no one’s buying these pictures. I just want to help NASA and promote science.”

He said he’s been contacted by NASA investigators, who interviewed him extensively and combed through his e-mails relating to the photo shoot.

“I would question whether it’s a good use of NASA employees’ time to spend all that time scaring a graduate student, wanting to know whether anyone got any benefits” from the project, he said.

So, did they? “Um, I passed out water bottles. . . . And I gave some people hand-made thank-you cards,” Chirayath said.

Cabinet iconography

This is what the changing of the guard looks like, Washington-style.

Just as the Senate was voting to confirm Tom Perez as the secretary of labor late last week, the word was out at Labor Department headquarters: Remove all photos of former labor secretary Hilda Solis to get ready for the incoming boss.

Out with the old, in with the new.

“Pending the arrival of a new Secretary of Labor, it is requested that all DOL agencies remove the pictures of former Secretary Solis from your work spaces by noon this Friday,” reads an e-mail to Labor Department supervisors from Al Stewart, the agency’s director of business operations and procurement executive.

But employees were warned not to get too trash-happy in this era of tight budgets. While the pictures of Solis were to be shelved, the frames were to be preserved and reused.

Fortunately, “additional guidance will be provided on how the new Secretary’s photos will be inserted in the existing frames when those photos are available,” the e-mail reads.

That’s a relief. It could get tricky.

Department spokesman Carl Fillichio laughed off the Loop’s interest in the regime-change missive. “That’s what we do when we have a new secretary of labor,” he said.

Wait — what about the photos of Solis? Workers were advised to “temporarily store them in your offices.” Seems sad that one day, your pictures are gracing the walls of an important government office, and the next day, they’re gathering dust in someone’s closet.

Maybe sell them as collector’s items on eBay?

Justice moves

With Tom Perez, who had headed the civil rights division at Justice, becoming labor secretary, the question is: Who will head Justice’s civil rights division?

The answer for the short term — and we’re hearing likely to be nominated for the long term — is Joycelyn Samuels, who’s been the principal deputy assistant attorney general in that division for the past four years.

Before that, Samuels had been vice president for education and employment for nearly eight years at the National Women’s Law Center.

Samuels is stepping in at a tough time. Demonstrations around the country are pressing the department to bring civil rights charges against George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin — something current and former Justice officials said could be extremely difficult and perhaps impossible.

Meanwhile, Perez has tapped Xochitl Hinojosa, a former press aide at the Justice Department and more recently communications director for Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) — and once featured in a Washingtonian fashion gallery — to be the Labor Department spokeswoman.

Envoy out, envoy in

As expected, President Obama last week renominated Washington lawyer and major bundler Timothy Broas — whose initial nomination was derailed a year ago after a drunken-driving arrest — to be ambassador to the Netherlands.

Broas was stopped on Connecticut Avenue near his home in Chevy Chase in June 2012 and charged with speeding, drunken driving and resisting arrest. The latter two charges were dropped shortly after the arrest.

Also on the ambassadorial front, Allan Katz, an Obama 2008 mega-bundler, former Tallahassee city commissioner and now ambassador to Portugal, is leaving that job soon to be a professor at his alma mater, the University of Missouri at Kansas City.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

 
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