by Douglas Messier
NOAA might finally get a permanent — if that is the right word –administrator more than three years into President Donald Trump’s four-year term.
The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation approved the nomination of Neil Jacobs to become under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, a position that includes serving as NOAA administrator.
Jacobs is currently serving in both roles on an interim basis in his position as assistant secretary of commerce for environmental observation and prediction.
The nomination will now go on to the full Senate for a vote.
The committee approved Jacobs’ nomination by voice vote. Three Democratic Senators — Tammy Baldwin (Wisc), Richard Blumenthal (Conn), and Tammy Duckworth (Ill) — voted against the nomination.
Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash) voted in favor of the nomination with reservations.
“While I agree that this agency needs a permanent leader, I also believe we need to find all the facts regarding the performance and suitability of Dr. Jacobs,” Cantwell said.
The senator said she had wanted to wait on voting on the application until after the conclusion of the Commerce Department inspector general’s investigation of a bizarre scandal known as Sharpiegate and Jacobs’ role in it.
Last September, Trump tweeted that Alabama would be among the states impacted more than expected by Hurricane Dorian, which was approaching the Florida coast.
The statement was erroneous. The National Weather Service, which is part of NOAA, was forecasting that the storm would not impact Alabama. The forecast turned out to be accurate.
Inundated with calls from worried residents, the National Weather Service office in southern Alabama tweeted out a correction without realizing the erroneous information came from the president’s tweet.
Trump was infuriated. During a press conference in the Oval Office several days later, Trump showed a map of the hurricane’s projected path on which someone had drawn a semi-circle in black ink showing the storm impacting part of Alabama. The Washington Post quoted unidentified White House saying Trump drew the semi-circle.
NOAA subsequently issued an unsigned statement criticizing the National Weather Service and saying Trump had been correct all along.
Weather forecasters were outraged by the state,emt and the alteration of the map. They said the actions politicized what has been a non-partisan field.
NOAA still lacks a Senate-approved administrator as Trump nears the end of his term because the administration spent more than two years promoting the nomination of Barry Myers for the job.
The committee twice approved Myers’ nomination on party-line votes over Democratic concerns over possible conflict of interest. Myers previously ran AccuWeather, a family-owned commercial weather forecasting company.
The full Senate never took up the nomination. Myers cited health concerns when he withdrew in November 2019. Trump nominated Jacobs for the post the following month.