Last week, former AccuWeather executive Barry Myers cleared a key hurdle to be appointed the Administrator of NOAA, which would include the National Weather Service. The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee voted on a party-line vote, 14-12, approving his nomination that took place without debate.
This is the third time Myers, President Trump’s nominee for the position, cleared this hurdle. In November 2017, the committee held a hearing for his nomination and approved it. The Senate never confirmed that nomination; in January 2018, he was re-nominated and re-approved, but the Senate again failed to take on his appointment decision. He was re-nominated a third time in January of this year.
Myers had been part of the AccuWeather leadership for nearly 30 years before selling-off all of his interest in the company and its subsidiaries and affiliates in January. At first, he served as Executive Vice President and General Counsel; in 2007, he became CEO. Barry Myers’ brother, Joel Myers, remains the founder, President, and Chairman of the organization.
At the time he sold off his interests in AccuWeather, the company released a statement saying, “In accordance with the ethics pledge from Myers to the U.S. Office of Government Ethics and in his testimony and comments made to the U.S. Senate, he has fulfilled his commitment to fully divest himself of AccuWeather and of any and all related interests.”
However, with his family still owning and running the business, many are raising concerns about conflict of interest.
“The many and clear conflicts of interest give me grave concerns about whether this nominee will truly serve the public’s interests,” said Kathryn Sullivan, a retired NASA astronaut and former chief scientist at NOAA who served as the agency’s administrator in the Obama administration from 2014 to 2017. “It strains credulity.”
Another Obama administration worker also expressed concern. Jane Lubchenco, an environmental scientist who served as the agency’s administrator in the Obama administration from 2009 to 2013, said she strongly opposes the nomination because of “his egregious conflicts of interest,” “his lack of scientific training,” and his “aggressive and sustained actions to undermine” the National Weather Service.
With a track record of recommending changes with the National Weather Service that would benefit private industry, such as AccuWeather, over the government agency, there’s a concern Myers, if appointed, would make changes to the structure or products of the National Weather Service that could financially benefit his family.
His brother Joel disagrees, saying Barry’s experience in the weather industry for so long would be an asset to NOAA. “Barry has served AccuWeather expertly, helping me guide it from an idea at my kitchen table to the successful global company it is today,” Joel Myers said in a statement. “I am very grateful for his significant contributions to AccuWeather, including his leadership, ideas, business acumen and his commitment to our global expansion. His presence will be missed. As his brother and the person who has known him longer than anyone else, I can attest to his vast knowledge and believe he would be a terrific asset in service to our country.”
It is not yet known whether the Senate will vote on his appointment. While the number of Republicans have grown in the Senate in 2019 after the 2018 Midterm Elections, there may be enough controversy around potential conflicts of interest to either not have the vote or to have the vote and not win it.
From October 25, 2017 to February of this year, Timothy Gallaudet, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, had served as acting interim administrator for NOAA while being Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere at the US Department of Commerce. Since then, Dr. Neil Jacobs, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction, performing the duties of Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, has assumed the role. The NOAA Administrator role became vacant in October 2017 when President Obama’s administrator, Benjamin Friedman, left his post.