Barry Myers, the Trump administration's nominee to become NOAA administrator, testified at a confirmation hearing Nov. 29. Credit: Senate Commerce Committee

NEW ORLEANS — The Senate Commerce Committee advanced the nomination of Barry Myers to be the next administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to the full Senate despite concerns by the committee’s Democrats about potential conflicts of interest.

The committee voted 14–13 to favorably report the nomination of Myers to lead NOAA during a brief markup session Dec. 13. The vote fell on party lines, with all the committee’s Republicans voting for Myers and all its Democratic members voting against him.

In his opening statement, the committee’s ranking member, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) raised questions about conflicts of interest Myers has from being chief executive of AccuWeather, a family-owned weather forecasting company, that Nelson argued were not resolved at Myers’ Nov. 29 confirmation hearing.

“While he is clearly knowledgeable about our national weather program, I remain concerned about conflicts of interest due to his family connections with AccuWeather,” Nelson said. “We need a NOAA administrator who will safeguard the critical missions of this important agency without any conflicts of interest.”

“I am not convinced that Mr. Myers is that man, and I will be voting against his nomination, but with the hope that Mr. Myers will prove me wrong if he is confirmed,” Nelson said.

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), who chaired that confirmation hearing, argued that Myers had resolved any conflict-of-interest issues. “Mr. Myers directly addressed it in his opening statement,” he said, adding that Myers also discussed conflicts of interest in later questions. “He was unequivocal on this issue.”

Nelson acknowledged that Myers’ nomination would advance to the full Senate, where he will likely to be eventually confirmed. “If Mr. Myers is confirmed — and I can count votes — this senator will do everything in the world, as will all of these senators,” he said, pointing to the other Democrats on the committee, “to make him successful.”

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the committee, urged the full Senate to confirm Myers quickly. “I’m hopeful that his nomination can be considered as soon as possible,” he said in his opening remarks.

Thune, in those remarks, subtly criticized the full Senate for not acting on other nominees his committee has approved. Those include NASA administrator nominee Jim Bridenstine, whose nomination was approved by the committee more than a month ago but remains in limbo.

“I had hoped the full Senate would have been able to confirm a few more of these well-qualified individuals by now,” Thune said.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...