The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the parent organization of the National Weather Service, will introduce new leadership when President-elect Donald Trump assumes office.
The agency is at a crossroads and faces many important challenges in the coming years. How these challenges are addressed will help define the next generation of weather and climate forecasts and observations, and also have key implications for the health of our oceans.
In recent weeks, I have spoken to numerous leaders in the weather and climate community, and the three names mentioned repeatedly as candidates to head NOAA are:
- Scott Rayder, senior adviser for development and partnerships at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research
- Barry Myers, chief executive of AccuWeather in State College, Pa.
- Jonathan White, president and chief executive of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership
Of these three candidates, Rayder is the most prominent insider. He is a member of the transition team for the Commerce Department, which oversees NOAA, and served as chief of staff for former NOAA administrator Conrad Lautenbacher in the administration of President George W. Bush.
Rayder has worked in the public, private and academic sectors and has a wealth of experience managing weather, ocean programs and partnerships.
As many of Trump’s cabinet choices have strong business backgrounds, including Wilbur Ross, the pick for secretary of commerce, it is perhaps unsurprising that one of the NOAA candidates hails from the private sector.
E & E News was the first to report Myers as a candidate last week. For his part, Myers is “flattered” to be considered, he said in an interview.
Myers holds business and law degrees that he has put to work at AccuWeather. “He has been responsible for directing the strategic initiatives of the company and developing many of the company’s acquisitions, major business relationships, and groundbreaking opportunities,” his biography says.
In our call, Myers said his experience running a company would be a strength in bringing a “new perspective” to NOAA’s mission and objectives. “Good business leadership is the kind of skill and ability you see the president-elect looking for across all his choice of leaders,” he said.
The prospect of Myers heading NOAA may make some Weather Service employees uncomfortable, however. Over the past two decades, AccuWeather has at times butted heads with the agency, arguing that it should cede certain functions to the private sector.
In 2005, Myers and his brother Joel, founder of AccuWeather, donated money to then-Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), who introduced legislation aimed to curtail government competition with private weather services.
Myers countered that he strongly supports the Weather Service and its mission, which ostensibly is the same as AccuWeather’s. “I received a very honorable award from the American Meteorological Society for bringing the private and government sector together to achieve great things,” Myers said. “I caution people to never be fearful of the future. There are more opportunities out there than any of us can ever imagine.”
White, who served as Oceanographer of the Navy and holds degrees in oceanography and meteorology, stands out as the candidate with the strongest scientific leadership experience.
In an interview, he confirmed that Trump transition officials had contacted him to gauge his interest in the NOAA administrator job. “I would certainly be honored to serve if conditions were right,” he said. “This is going to be a critical time for NOAA.”
Among several priorities, White said the next administrator should work to ensure that NOAA has the “the best weather-climate prediction capability in the world” and to develop a plan for monitoring the oceans.
He emphasized that the NOAA administrator should possess scientific and technical leadership background to “balance” the business leaders.
The other names I have heard as possible candidates are:
- Scott Gudes, vice president of government affairs at American Sportfishing Association and previously assistant administrator at NOAA
- Bill Hogarth, former assistant administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS) at NOAA and former director of the Florida Institute of Oceanography
- David Jolly, attorney and former congressman for Florida’s 13th District
It is entirely possible that new candidates could emerge, and the process for selecting and naming a new administrator may take time. In 2001 the Bush administration did not name Lautenbacher as NOAA administrator until nearly 11 months after Bush assumed power.
This is the first of a two-part series on the NOAA transition. The next part will examine the key issues facing the agency.