NEWS

Trump’s pick to lead US oceans agency withdraws

Former AccuWeather chief Barry Myers cites health concerns, after waiting more than two years for Senate approval.

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Senate Confirmation Hearing Held For Barry Lee Myers To Be Administrator Of NOAA.

Barry Myers is the former chief executive of AccuWeather, a commercial forecasting firm in State College, Pennsylvania.Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty

Barry Myers, US President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), has withdrawn from consideration.

Myers, whose nomination has languished in the US Senate for more than two years without a vote, said in a statement that he was withdrawing for health reasons after undergoing surgery and starting a course of chemotherapy. “My medical issues have made that service to the nation impractical at this time,” he said.

An attorney by training, Myers is the former chief executive of the commercial forecasting firm AccuWeather in State College, Pennsylvania. His brother Joel Myers is now the company’s chief executive.

Opponents of Myers’ nomination have raised concerns about his lack of scientific credentials as well as conflicts of interest surrounding any decisions involving NOAA’s National Weather Service. Myers stepped down from his post at AccuWeather in January, more than a year after Trump nominated him to lead NOAA.

He has advocated giving the private sector a larger role in providing weather services. AccuWeather has lobbied for legislation that would prevent the National Weather Service from competing with private firms that provide basic weather forecasts and other data to the public.

“I’m sorry about his health problems, but fundamentally I think he was the wrong person for that particular job,” says Andrew Rosenberg, a former NOAA employee who now heads the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“I wish Mr. Myers the best in dealing with his health issues and thank him for his willingness to serve the nation,” said former NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco.

A marine biologist who led the agency during the presidency of Barack Obama, Lubchenco has been among Myers’ staunchest critics — citing his lack of scientific training, his apparent conflicts of interest and multiple allegations of sexual harassment at AccuWeather during his time as its chief executive.

In January 2018, the US Department of Labor found that AccuWeather had discriminated against dozens of female employees by subjecting them to sexual harassment and a hostile work environment.

AccuWeather denies the allegations but agreed to pay US$290,000 in June 2018 as part of a settlement related to the claims. “We are committed to making our workplace the very best it can be for all who work here,” the company said in a statement.

“My wife, my children, and I have been unmercifully attacked by false news stories,” Myers said in his statement. “None of this has discouraged me from serving this Administration.”

NOAA has gone without a permanent leader since Trump took office in January 2017. Neil Jacobs, an atmospheric scientist who previously worked for Panasonic Avionics Corporation in Lake Forest, California, has served as acting administrator since February. It’s unclear when — or whether — Trump will nominate a new agency chief.

doi: 10.1038/d41586-019-03615-z

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