On Wednesday, President Trump nominated Barry Myers, the CEO of the weather forecasting company AccuWeather, to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). But unlike 11 of the 12 previous NOAA administrators, Myers does not have an advanced scientific degree.
In his role as administrator, Myers will be responsible for overseeing the National Weather Service (NWS), funding weather and climate change research projects, and monitoring and protecting the nation's coasts and oceans.
Myers will also be responsible for the nation's fisheries, a role that has reportedly "tripped up past administrators as it often involves unfamiliar science and heated regional debates that don't follow familiar partisan divisions."
With such an extensive and complex portfolio it makes sense to nominate someone with a comprehensive background in science. Under the Obama administration, NOAA was led by geologist and former astronaut Kathryn Sullivan and marine ecologist Jane Lubchenco.
But if Myers' nomination is confirmed by the Senate, the new administrator will lack similar scientific qualifications. President Trump will instead have appointed a businessman and lawyer who has lobbied aggressively to privatize public weather information.
The nomination has been openly criticized by the National Weather Service Employees Organization, which sent a letter to two of the Senators on the committee that will hold Myers' confirmation hearings. In the letter, the organization expressed their concern with Myers' qualifications.
"As this position has traditionally been filled by a pre-eminent scientist, and by that standard alone, Mr. Myers is wholly unqualified for the job," the letter reads.
"In addition to his lack of scientific qualifications and his absence of any background in oceans, research, fisheries, environmental satellites, which constitute a majority of NOAA's programs and budget, Mr. Myers' nomination would present a host of conflicts of interests."
The union argues that Rear Admiral Tim Gallaudet, who has been nominated for the agency's second-top position, would be preferable given that Gallaudet has a PhD in Oceanography and has experience leading the Naval Meteorology and Oceanographic Command.
But it's not just Myer's lack of scientific understanding that is worrying. There are conflicts of interest that need to be considered as well.
Over the years, Myers and his brother (who founded AccuWeather) have given $40,000 worth of donations to Rick Santorum's campaign. In 2005, just days before Santorum introduced a bill that would have stopped the NWS "from providing any product or service that 'is or could be provided by' a private sector weather company", Myers donated $2,000 to Santorum.
In other words, Myers has actively tried to buy legislation that would make NOAA's weather data private so that only companies like AccuWeather can access the information. It isn't difficult to see how a company like AccuWeather could benefit greatly from the appointment of such a nominee.
Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), who is one of the members on the committee that will decide Myers' nomination, ultimately blocked Santorum's 2005 bill. To this day, Nelson remains skeptical of Myers' conflict of interest.
"We've had ten hurricanes in ten weeks, I want to make absolutely sure any NOAA administrator will put the public first in delivering freely available weather forecasts," Nelson said.
"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."