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Spaceport’s interim chief named executive director

Scott A. McLaughlin

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

The Spaceport Authority named Scott A. McLaughlin as the new executive director of Spaceport America in southern New Mexico, state Economic Development Secretary Alicia J. Keyes said Tuesday.

McLaughlin has served as the spaceport’s interim director since July, after former Executive Director Dan Hicks took administrative leave following allegations of financial mismanagement and abuse of power.

The Spaceport Authority later dismissed Hicks after the state auditor released a third-party report in November that detailed allegations of improper procurement practices, excessive travel spending, and lack of proper financial oversight under Hicks’ administration, possibly costing the spaceport hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In contrast, Keyes said, McLaughlin has worked closely with the Spaceport Authority since July to ensure all governing policies and procedures are strictly enforced.

“Scott’s been doing a fantastic job as acting director,” Keyes told the Journal. “He has a lot of experience in running a business. He builds consensus, he’s a great listener, and he’s transparent in everything he does.”

Those qualities are critical given the state auditor’s report, which alleged that Hicks and the spaceport’s former finance and administration director, Zach DeGregorio, routinely circumvented the Spaceport Authority to independently approve travel, contracts for goods and services, and hiring decisions.

Under McLaughlin, all decisions are now reviewed and approved in direct coordination with the board.

“There’s nothing wrong with the policies and procedures in place,” McLaughlin told the Journal. “The problem was lack of effective checks and balances before to enforce those things, with many shortcuts taken to approve things. That won’t happen going forward, because we’re working much closer with the board as a team to review all decisions that affect the spaceport and the public.”

McLaughlin is the seventh executive director to take the helm since the spaceport officially launched in 2006. A native New Mexican, he joined the spaceport in 2019, serving as director of business development before replacing Hicks.

An electrical engineer, McLaughlin graduated from New Mexico State University. He previously worked in private technology and engineering companies, and at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

He’s credited with designing a radar that takes high-altitude wind measurements. It’s now used by public and private entities around the world to support everything from space launches and test ranges to aviation operations and weather service networks.

As executive director, McLaughlin said, he will focus on recruiting more companies to operate at the spaceport and to support Virgin Galactic as it advances toward commercial operations.

“Once Virgin Galactic moves from testing to commercial launch, we expect to see a substantial increase in revenue, jobs and economic impact here,” he said.

The spaceport employs 21 people. Most are still working from home because of COVID-19, as are most of Virgin Galactic’s 180 New Mexico employees.

The spaceport has a $10 million annual budget, about 60% of which comes from fees paid by companies that operate there. McLaughlin will receive $150,000 annually as executive director.

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