Jacobs Is New NOAA Administrator Nominee

Jacobs Is New NOAA Administrator Nominee

President Trump today announced his intention to nominate Neil Jacobs to be Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, which would also make him Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Trump had nominated Barry Myers beginning in 2017, but his nomination was controversial and never reached the Senate floor for a vote. He recently withdrew from consideration for health reasons.  Jacobs is currently Acting Administrator.

Neil Jacobs, Acting NOAA Administrator.

Jacobs was confirmed by the Senate as Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction, one of two deputy administrator positions at NOAA, on February 15, 2018.  He came to NOAA from Panasonic Avionics Corporation where he was Chief Atmospheric Scientist directing research and development of the aviation weather observing platform and weather forecast model programs.

He has dual B.S. degrees in mathematics and physics from the University of South Carolina, and an M.S. in air-sea interaction and a Ph.D. in numerical modeling from North Carolina State University.

NOAA has been without a permanent Administrator since the beginning of the Trump Administration.  NOAA’s other deputy administrator, RDML Timothy Gallaudet (Ret.), Assistant Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere, served as Acting Administrator beginning in October 2017, but Jacobs was assigned to the post on February 25, 2019 reportedly so Gallaudet could focus on his Assistant Secretary duties.

Trump nominated AccuWeather’s Barry Myers to be NOAA Administrator in October 2017 and he was approved by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee on party-line votes that year as well as in 2018 and 2019 (presidential nominations must be resubmitted each year if the individual has not been confirmed).  But the nomination was controversial because Myers and his brother owned AccuWeather, a private weather forecasting company, and the National Weather Service (NWS) is part of NOAA.  Opposition centered on a perceived conflict of interest between his family’s business and governmental responsibilities.  Myers sold his interest in AccuWeather before being renominated this year, but the nomination still did not make any headway (his brother still owns the company) and he withdrew last month for health reasons.

Jacobs was easily confirmed by the Senate for his current position, but now must go through the process again.  Whether it will be as easy this time remains to be seen.

In September, NOAA became embroiled in controversy when President Trump tweeted that Alabama was one of the states that “likely would be hit (much) harder than anticipated” by Hurricane Dorian even though the forecast did not show that.  The NWS office in Birmingham, Alabama issued a statement clarifying that Alabama would see no impact from the storm.

“Sharpiegate” ensued where Trump displayed a map to reporters where someone apparently used a Sharpie pen to include Alabama in the warning area and NOAA issued an unsigned letter on September 6 criticizing the NWS for contradicting the President.

Jacobs’s role in penning that letter is almost certain to arise during his confirmation hearing.  Others in the Department of Commerce acting at White House direction are widely viewed as responsible for the language rebuking NWS, but who did what remains unclear.  The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee oversees NOAA and has been investigating who was responsible both at NOAA and at the Department. Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson sent a third letter to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross last week seeking information noting that although the committee received documents from NOAA,  “no responsive materials” have been provided by the Department.

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