President Trump’s choice to head the sprawling agency that oversees the National Weather Service might encounter some stiff headwinds during the Senate confirmation process.
In announcing that he had picked Barry Lee Myers, chief executive officer of AccuWeather Inc., the commercial forecasting behemoth in State College, Pa., to run the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Trump described him as “one of the world’s leading authorities on the use of weather information.”
However, Sen. Bill Nelson, the ranking Democrat on the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, expressed reservations about the prospective appointment of Myers, 62, a lawyer and a Philadelphia native. And the union representing weather service meteorologists said it strongly opposed the nomination.
“As NOAA administrator, he would be in a position to fundamentally alter the nature of weather services that NOAA provides the nation, to the benefit of his family-owned business,” the National Weather Service Employees Organization said in a statement.
His brother, Joel N. Myers, the founder of AccuWeather, said in a news release that Barry Myers was “uniquely qualified” for the post, … “and I know he will be fully dedicated to serve the nation’s needs in a rational and ethical way.”
In a statement the union said that a 2005 Senate bill to limit the weather service to issuing warnings, while transferring other forecast operations to commercial companies was introduced by former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R., Pa.) at “AccuWeather’s behest.”
“We’ve had ten hurricanes in 10 weeks, I want to make absolutely sure any NOAA administrator will put the public first in delivering freely available weather forecasts,” said Nelson, of Florida. “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.”
Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) defended Myers. “I believe Barry will succeed in his new position,” he said. “I look forward to working with him and his team once he is confirmed by the Senate.”
The weather service union questioned Barry Myers’s qualifications. NOAA, a division of the Commerce Department, has 12,000 employees, including almost 7,000 scientists, and is involved in ocean, fishery and satellite programs . The weather service represents only about 20 percent of NOAA’s $6 billion budget.
“Mr. Myers is wholly unqualified for the job,” said Richard Hirn, the union’s counsel.
“Typically that position has been given to an exemplary scientist,” said Dan Sobien, the union president. “He’s an attorney running a … company in Pennsylvania. What does he know about fish?”
Relations between AccuWeather and the weather service have been at times acrimonious. AccuWeather officials have long complained that the government has hurt commercial companies by offering forecast services that belong in the private domain.
“It was a very confrontational relationship,” said Sobein, “but to both parties’ credit, the relationship isn’t as bad as it used to be.”
Staff writer Jonathan Tamari contributed to this article.