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Sean O'Keefe

Sean C. O'Keefe
Administrator of NASA
In office
December 21, 2001 – April 13, 2005
President George W. Bush
Preceded by Daniel Goldin
Succeeded by Michael D. Griffin
United States Secretary of the Navy
In office
July 7, 1992 – January 20, 1993
President George H. W. Bush
Preceded by Daniel Howard
Succeeded by Frank B. Kelso II
Personal details
Born Sean Charles O'Keefe
(1956-01-27) January 27, 1956
New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.[1]
Nationality American
Relations Arthur J. O'Keefe (great-grandfather)
Michael H. O'Keefe (uncle)
Patricia Carlin O'Keefe (mother)
Patrick Gordon O'Keefe (father)
Occupation University Professor, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs[2]
Known for Administrator of NASA (2001–2005)

Sean Charles O'Keefe (born January 27, 1956) is the former chairman of Airbus Group, Inc., a subsidiary of the European aerospace firm EADS,[3][4] former Secretary of the Navy, former Administrator of NASA, and former chancellor of Louisiana State University (LSU).[5] He is a former member of the board of directors of DuPont.


  • Early life and education 1
  • Career 2
    • Comptroller, U.S. Department of Defense 1989–1992 2.1
    • Secretary of the Navy, 1992–1993 2.2
    • Deputy Director Office of Management and Budget 2.3
    • Administrator of NASA, 2001–2004 2.4
    • Chancellor of Louisiana State University, 2005–2008 2.5
    • EADS North America / Airbus Group North American Unit, 2009–2014 2.6
    • Center for Strategic and International Studies / Syracuse University, 2014–present 2.7
  • Personal life 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5

Early life and education

O'Keefe was born in Monterey, California, to Patricia (née Carlin; died 2010) and Patrick Gordon O'Keefe (born c. 1927), both natives of New Orleans. Patrick O'Keefe became a United States Navy engineer and over the years worked on nuclear submarines.[6] The O'Keefes lived on several naval bases during O'Keefe's childhood.

In 1973, he graduated from Wheeler High School in North Stonington, Connecticut. He attended Loyola University New Orleans, graduating with his Bachelor of Arts in 1977. He subsequently acquired his Master of Public Administration degree in 1978 from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.[7]


After receiving his master's degree, he began his career as Presidential Management Intern[8] and later was a budget analyst for the Department of Defense. He served on the United States Senate Committee on Appropriations staff for eight years, and was Staff Director of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.

Comptroller, U.S. Department of Defense 1989–1992

In 1989, O'Keefe became Comptroller for the Department of Defense. Dubbed by some "the Grim Reaper." he lead efforts to cut defense programs the Pentagon's senior leadership saw as unnecessary or wasteful[9] He was lauded for his handling of the financial aspects of the Gulf War managing to collect large payments from U.S. allies which significantly offset the cost of the war.[10]

Secretary of the Navy, 1992–1993

On July 7, 1992 President George H. W. Bush named him Acting Secretary of the Navy. He subsequently became permanent Secretary of the Navy and held that position until Bush left office on January 20, 1993. Although his time in office was less than seven months, it was eventful. Originally appointed to help clean up the "Tailhook" sexual harassment scandal, he also dealt with the draw down of Navy and Marine Corps forces in the wake of the end of the Cold War, and he issued a new strategy policy statement for the sea services called "...From the Sea."[11]

After Bush left office, O'Keefe was Professor of Business Administration, Assistant to the Senior Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate School at Pennsylvania State University. He next became the Louis A. Bantle Professor of Business and Government Policy, an endowed chair at the Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. [Professor of Business Administration and Assistant to the Senior Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate School at Pennsylvania State University.[7]

Deputy Director Office of Management and Budget

From January to December 2001, O'Keefe served as Deputy Director of the [12]

Administrator of NASA, 2001–2004

O'Keefe became NASA administrator on December 21, 2001 after the U.S. Senate confirmed his nomination. He came to NASA with a background of Secretary of the Navy and Director of OMB, and without formal training in science or engineering (as was the case with James E. Webb who NASA administrator from 1961 to 1968).[7] O'Keefe's tenure at NASA can be divided into roughly three equal periods, each marked by a single problem or event of overriding importance:

One of O'Keefe's most controversial decisions occurred in January 2004, when he cancelled an upcoming mission by the space shuttle to service the aging Hubble Space Telescope.[13][14][15] O'Keefe claimed that, in light of the Space Shuttle Columbia accident, the mission would be too risky, since any potential shuttle damage while visiting the Hubble, would mean insufficient fuel to dock with the space station as a "safe haven". While members of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) supported this decision numerous astronomers felt that the Hubble telescope was valuable enough to merit the risk.[16][17]

In the buildup to the 2004 presidential election, a scuffle in the press occurred between O'Keefe and NASA climatologist James Hansen. In 2003, it was revealed, O'Keefe warned Hansen not to discuss humanity's role in global warming. "The administrator [Mr. O'Keefe] interrupted me," Dr. Hansen said in the New York Times, "he told me that I should not talk about dangerous anthropogenic interference, because we do not know enough or have enough evidence for what would constitute dangerous anthropogenic interference." O'Keefe's spokesperson said O'Keefe had not meant to admonish Hansen or suggest that research efforts should be cut. The New York Times reported that "Dr. Franco Einaudi, director of the NASA Earth Sciences Directorate at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and Dr. Hansen's supervisor, said he was at the meeting between Dr. Hansen and Mr. O'Keefe. Dr. Einaudi confirmed that Mr. O'Keefe had interrupted the presentation to say that these were "delicate issues" and there was a lot of uncertainty about them. But, he added: "Whether it is obvious to take that as an order or not is a question of judgment. Personally, I did not take it as an order."[18]

O'Keefe responded to President Bush's 'Vision for Exploration' by hiring retired Navy Admiral Craig E. Steidle who had previously led development of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) as an associate administrator in charge of the new 'Exploration Systems Mission Directorate' (ESMD). He developed a mission architecture for lunar exploration based on four launches of medium-lift vehicles and four space rendezvous per mission, which was immediately scrapped by Michael Griffin upon his arrival at NASA. NASA started over with the Exploration Systems Architecture Study (ESAS), sixteen months after Bush's Vision for Space Exploration announcement. This led to the Ares I and Ares V launch vehicles (later canceled) and the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle.

O'Keefe resigned on December 13, 2004.[19]

Asteroid 78905 Seanokeefe was named in honor of O'Keefe's NASA administratorship.[20]

Chancellor of Louisiana State University, 2005–2008

O’Keefe succeeded Mark Emmert on February 21, 2005. O'Keefe has been credited for establishing the Louisiana State University endowment through the $798 million "Forever LSU Campaign", his second campaign as LSU's Chancellor. He became popular among students for interacting with them, especially during periodic 'Chats with the Chancellor' across the campus throughout the semesters, and because of his encouraging emails. O’Keefe led LSU during its response to Hurricane Katrina in August and September 2005 when the campus was transformed into what has been called “the largest acute-care field hospital established in a contingency in the nation’s history.” On January 16, 2008, he announced that February 1, 2008 was his last day as chancellor.[21]

O'Keefe lightly discussed his membership in the exclusive San Francisco Bohemian Club that has a 15- to 20-year waiting list, with the Louisiana State University student newspaper The Daily Reveille. During July 2005, O'Keefe had traveled to visit the famous Bohemian Grove near San Francisco as a member of the 'Wayside Log camp'. The prior time in 1993 he was the guest of a member, one whom he later appointed to a NASA panel.[22]

EADS North America / Airbus Group North American Unit, 2009–2014

In October 2009, EADS North America hired O'Keefe as CEO. His Washington connections were noted at a time when EADS was trying to secure a $35 billion contract for U.S. Air Force in-air refueling planes in a competition with Boeing.[3] O'Keefe brought aboard Paul Pastorek, the Louisiana state school superintendent from 2007 to 2011, as the EADS chief counsel and corporate secretary.[23] In an August 2010 seaplane crash, O'Keefe sustained serious injuries, while former US Senator Ted Stevens and four others were killed.[24][25][26] O'Keefe and his teenaged son were among four survivors of the 2010 de Havilland Canada DHC-3 Otter crash near Aleknagik, Alaska.[27][28] In January 2011, O’Keefe assumed the additional responsibilities of chairman of the board of EADS, which was renamed Airbus Group's North American Unit. In March 2014, O'Keefe stepped down as Chief Executive to address lingering medical issues from his 2010 plane accident.[29]

Center for Strategic and International Studies / Syracuse University, 2014–present

In November 2014 the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) announced that O'Keefe had joinded CSIS as a Distinguished Senior Adviser.[30] Simultaneously Syracuse University announced that O'Keefe had been appointed as a University Professor.[31]

Personal life

O'Keefe and his wife, Laura, have three children. O'Keefe's great-grandfather was Arthur J. O'Keefe, Sr., who from 1926 to 1929 was the mayor of New Orleans, Louisiana. His grandfather, Arthur O'Keefe, Jr., was a member of the Louisiana State Senate from New Orleans from 1948 to 1950. His uncle is the former State Senate President, Michael H. O'Keefe.[32]


  1. ^ [2]
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b "EADS taps government vet",, October 22, 2009; accessed September 18, 2014.
  4. ^ "EADS North America names Sean O'Keefe as Chief Executive Officer".  
  5. ^ History of LSU, Louisiana State University, January 15, 2010
  6. ^ """Ray Willhoft, "Trials, Triumphs, and a Mother’s Love. Retrieved June 21, 2013. 
  7. ^ a b c Leadership and Change at NASA: Sean O'Keefe as Administrator, W. Henry Lambright, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs Syracuse University
  8. ^ "Who is Sean O'Keefe?". The Washington Post. 
  9. ^ Schmitt, Eric (May 7, 1992). "Washington at Work; Grim Reaper for Military Budgets". The New York Times. 
  10. ^ "The Gulf War: Off the Hook?". Time. May 27, 1991. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ Overbye, Dennis (2008-08-05). "Inside Story of the Telescope That Nearly Wasn't Built". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-08-05. 
  13. ^ STScI. "Servicing Mission 4 Cancelled". Space Telescope Science Institute. Retrieved May 24, 2009. 
  14. ^ Jonathan Bagger. "Future Hubble Servicing Missions Cancelled". The  
  15. ^ NASA (January 16, 2004). "Hubble Servicing Mission SM4 Cancelled by NASA Headquarters (Internal Memos)". Retrieved May 26, 2009. 
  16. ^ Robert Roy Britt (March 10, 2004). "Decision to cancel Hubble criticized". CNN. Retrieved May 24, 2009. 
  17. ^ Jeff Foust (March 7, 2005). "Hubble slips away". The Space Review. Retrieved May 24, 2009. 
  18. ^ Revkin, Andrew C. (October 26, 2004). "NASA Expert Criticizes Bush On Global Warming Policy". The New York Times. ; "Subverting Science". The New York Times. October 31, 2004. 
  19. ^ Maugh II, Thomas H. (December 14, 2004). "NASA Chief Announces Resignation". The Los Angeles Times. 
  20. ^ NASA JPL. "78905 Seanokeefe (2003 SK85)". JPL Small-Body Database. NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Retrieved May 24, 2009. 
  21. ^ Barrow, Bill (January 16, 2008). "O'Keefe resigns as LSU Chancellor". The Times Picayune. 
  22. ^ Sean O'Keefe#Career
  23. ^ "Sean Cavanaugh, Paul Pastorek Resigns as School Superintendent in Louisiana". Retrieved June 4, 2014. 
  24. ^ Yardley, William; Robbins, Liz (August 10, 2010). "Former Senator Ted Stevens Is in Plane Crash". The New York Times. 
  25. ^ Robbins, Liz (August 10, 2010). "EADS North America CEO in Alaska plane crash". MarketWatch. 
  26. ^ "Ex-Nasa head and Stevens feared on crashed Alaska plane". BBC. August 11, 2010. Retrieved August 10, 2010. 
  27. ^ CNN Wire Staff (August 14, 2010). "Former NASA chief's condition improves as investigation continues". Retrieved 2010-08-13. 
  28. ^ "Ex-NASA chief O'Keefe survives Alaska crash". USA Today. August 10, 2010. 
  29. ^ "Sean O'Keefe steps down as chief of Airbus group". January 7, 2014. Retrieved January 7, 2014. 
  30. ^ "Sean O'Keefe Joins CSIS as Distinguished Senior Adviser, November 13, 2014". Retrieved November 13, 2014. 
  31. ^ "Sean O’Keefe G’78 Appointed University Professor, Phanstiel Chair, November 12, 2014". Retrieved November 12, 2014. 
  32. ^ "000329 O'Keefe". Retrieved June 21, 2013. 
  • The Career and Education portions of this article are based on public domain text from NASA.

External links

  • Official LSU Office of the Chancellor
  • LSU Profile
  • Official NASA Biography and Speeches
  • NASA History Office Entry
  • NASA Resignation Release
  • Appearances on C-SPAN
Government offices
Preceded by
Daniel Howard (acting)
United States Secretary of the Navy
Succeeded by
Frank B. Kelso II
Preceded by
Daniel Mulville (acting)
NASA Administrator
Succeeded by
Michael D. Griffin
Academic offices
Preceded by
Mark Emmert
Chancellor of LSU
Succeeded by
Michael V. Martin
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