President Trump picked Barry Myers, CEO of weather-forecasting firm AccuWeather, to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a White House spokesperson said on October 11.
Myers has been leading Pennsylvania-based AccuWeather since 2007. His experience working with AccuWeather has been touted as a potential asset, considering that the NOAA oversees the US National Weather Service. The nomination still needs to be confirmed by the US Senate.
But on the other hand, this nomination also raises issues. Some scientists have expressed concern that Myers' past with AccuWeather could represent a conflict of interest. Furthermore, Myers, an attorney by training, has no direct interaction with the extended scientific portfolio of NOAA, including climate, oceans, and fishery research.
“I think the science community has real cause for concern,” says Andrew Rosenberg, head of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Among his worries, Rosenberg notes that Myers was an early supporter of giving private companies more of the weather service sector. And back in 2005, with Myers serving as executive vice president and general counsel, AccuWeather lobbied in favor of legislation that would prevent National Weather Service from competing with those firms for services including basic weather forecasting.
“Is he going to recuse himself from decisions which might potentially be of interest to his company down the road?” asks Rosenberg.
It's likely that Myers will continue to advocate for allowing commercial weather data into the national weather-forecasting system. In and of itself, that isn't a bad thing. If done right, the forecasting system may stand a lot to gain from private firms, especially considering the uncertain future facing the NOAA.
President Trump has proposed scaling back NOAA's budget by 17% in the fiscal year 2018, a US$969 million slash from its $5.7 billion 2017 budget. Congress has overruled the president's plans to cut funding for several other key scientific agencies last year, but funding for the fiscal year 2018 (which began on October 1st) is yet to be decided. The US Government is currently running on a provisional spending bill due to expire on December 8th, at which time they will need to renegotiate the budget.
All things considered, Myers will have his work cut out for himself if he is invested. Among his most pressing issues, he will have to put together a team capable of handling the NOAA's full portfolio between an oft-hostile White House and budget cuts looming around the corner.