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White House pick to lead NOAA withdraws nomination, citing health concerns

Barry Myers’ nomination never got to a floor vote

Barry Lee Myers participates in his Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee confirmation hearing to become administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Nov. 29, 2017. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Barry Myers, President Trump’s controversial nominee to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), has withdrawn from consideration due to health concerns, an administration official confirmed Wednesday evening.

Myers’ nomination had languished in the Senate since it was first announced in November 2017, due in part to conflict of interest concerns regarding his family’s continued ownership stake in AccuWeather, the private weather forecasting company he led until stepping down on Jan. 1.

Myers’ decision to withdraw his nomination from consideration was first reported by the Washington Times. Myers told the Times that he had undergone surgery and chemotherapy treatments for cancer and wrote to the White House this week asking that his nomination be withdrawn.

Before his nomination, Myers had served as the CEO of AccuWeather since 2007. AccuWeather has had a history of advocating for expanding the role of private forecasting companies and limiting the functions of the taxpayer-funded National Weather Service, which is part of NOAA. Concerns had also been raised regarding AccuWeather’s record of sexual harassment lawsuits and settlements during Myers’ time at the company.

While Myers was CEO, AccuWeather agreed to pay $290,000 as part of a sexual harassment settlement involving a federal oversight agency, which found the company subjected female employees to harassment and a hostile work environment. The settlement covered a period from Jan. 1, 2014 and Dec. 21, 2017.

A Trump nominee’s family company paid $290,000 fine for sexual harassment and discrimination

Myers stepped down as CEO of AccuWeather on Jan. 1 of this year, and agreed to divest himself of any company ownership as part of an ethics pledge to the U.S. Office of Government Ethics. However, his brother, Joel Myers, is founder and president of AccuWeather.

Given NOAA’s role as a weather, climate, and fisheries research and regulatory agency, NOAA administrators typically come from scientific backgrounds, such as oceanography. Under President Barack Obama, for example, NOAA was led by prominent researcher Jane Lubchenco and then Kathryn Sullivan, a geologist who was the first American woman to walk in space.

Lubchenco, Sullivan, and D. James Baker, NOAA administrator under President Clinton, all had opposed Myers’ nomination. Conrad Lautenbacher, NOAA administrator under President Bush, supported Myers.

Myers’ nomination had twice been favorably reported out of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, but was never brought up for a floor vote.

NOAA, which has responsibilities stretching from the seafloor to low Earth Orbit, has now gone through the entire Trump presidency-to-date without a presidentially appointed administrator. This is the longest-such period in the agency’s history since it was created within the Commerce Department in 1970.

The agency is currently being led in an acting capacity by Neil Jacobs, who has a scientific background in weather forecasting and computer modeling.

The normally-scandal free agency was the subject of worldwide headlines in September during Hurricane Dorian, when President Trump falsely stated that the storm was going to severely impact Alabama. In response to phone calls from worried residents, the National Weather Service forecast office in Birmingham tweeted that the region would not be affected by the storm, but the White House pressured NOAA to issue a statement admonishing those forecasters.

Commerce Department aides knew Alabama hurricane forecasters were not responding to Trump, but still rebuked them

The Commerce Department’s Inspector General is currently investigating the matter in part due to concerns about political interference with a scientific agency. The House Science Committee is conducting its own inquiry, as is NOAA’s chief scientist.