President Trump made his pick to run the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration this week, and Barry Myers, CEO of weather firm AccuWeather, is already causing a storm.
A lawyer by training, Myers would be the first nonscientist to head NOAA in decades and, despite his experience working in weather, he lacks expertise in the agency’s other research areas, including climate change, endangered species, fisheries, and marine sanctuaries.
More troubling, though, is that Myers continues Trump’s pattern of topping government agencies with people who are openly hostile to the agency’s mission. Think Betsy DeVos at the Education Department, Scott Pruitt at the EPA, and Rick Perry at the Department of Energy. Myers’s opposition to a portion of NOAA’s work is clear and on the record. More than a decade ago, he supported a bill that would have prevented the National Weather Service from making forecasts available online, a service that competed with those offered by his companies.
“Barry Myers defines ‘conflict of interest,’” Ciaran Clayton, NOAA communications director under President Obama, told the Washington Post. “He actively lobbied to privatize the National Weather Service, which works day in and day out to protect the lives and livelihoods of millions of Americans, to benefit his own company’s bottom line.”
If confirmed, Myers will arrive at NOAA during a time of much uncertainty. The Trump administration has suggested a 17 percent cut in its budget for 2018. The House was less severe in the cuts it made in its 2018 budget, but the agency would still be left “underwater” if that budget becomes law, advocates say.
But before Myers worries about budgets, he needs to worry about Democrats in the Senate, who are already expressing skepticism over his nomination. “Mr. Myers will have to work very hard to persuade me that he will run NOAA for the public good,” Hawaii senator Brian Schatz said.
Florida Democrat Bill Nelson expressed unease too, telling the Post, “We can’t afford to have someone in this position that might be tempted to feather their own nest by privatizing the National Weather Service.”