This is the third in a series of articles encouraged by the Board of Certified Consulting Meteorologists and the National Council of Industrial Meteorologists to explore the ethical issues that can be encountered conducting business in the meteorological community. The purpose is to initiate a discussion within the broader membership about how the professional guidelines section of the AMS constitution comes to life in the conduct of everyday life of professional meteorologists. Comments are welcome and should be addressed to the authors. More formal responses can also be made to the editor of BAMS.

Weather systems do not recognize political boundaries. Thus it follows that the business of meteorology transce1nds those same boundaries. However, when meteorologists conduct business in multiple countries or outside of their home country they can encounter special ethical dilemmas.


Meteorologists working in the international business arena are subjected to a variety of local customs that can be in direct competition to maintaining the highest level of integrity. U.S. professionals' behavior and actions in this area must be guided by ethics associated with being a meteorologist and by specific U.S. federal legislation. For example:

  • Foreign Corrupt Business Practices Act (FCPA)—prohibits U.S. corporations from offering or providing bribes to foreign government officials

  • foreign trade restrictions and boycotts

  • International Trade in Arms Regulations (ITAR)

Meteorologists involved in business in other countries have an overlapping responsibility for their ethical behavior. While respecting local customs, they must be responsive to the U.S. legal restrictions on their business practices and uphold the ethical principals of both the science of meteorology and the American Meteorological Society.

Bribes are a common business practice in some countries. While a gratuity may get your proposal a “quick or friendly” review and be a part of the business norms in a country, the gift can possibly bring an unpleasant consequence that will take years to undo. The gray area question is, “When does a gift become a bribe?” In many countries, gifts are part of the norm of business etiquette. But giving of a substantial gift, particularly to public officials, can be viewed as an attempt to influence their decisions. The key word in this gray area is “substantial,” even if there is no expectation of return for favors or actions. A meteorological instrument vendor may see the gift of a sophisticated measurement station to a key official to monitor conditions near their home as an opportunity to provide a showcase for their products. The official may view it as a source of vital meteorological data that can be provided under “contract” to the local weather company or to a university for research under a government grant.

The U.S. government has recently increased enforcement of violations under the FCPA. In 2004, the federal government collected about $11 million in criminal fines and penalties and charged five individuals with violations related to FCPA. In 2010, more than $1 billion in fines was collected and about 35 people were indicted on charges.

A meteorologist working in other countries must be sensitive to a host of other ethical challenges, such as:

  • business development—use of local consultants to advise on navigation of bureaucratic and cultural channels

  • contract performance—expectations of customers for work preformed/time charged

  • technical challenges—access to local meteorological datasets that may incur substantial fees

  • national security—some countries may view geophysical/meteorological information as sensitive

  • cultural expectations—after-work hours social gatherings and activities

The use of “in-country” consultants is a practice that requires careful scrutiny. There are many valid uses for talented local experts to help design meteorological networks, obtain the facilities or personnel for data reduction and analysis or even introductions to key officials, as well as provide advice on local customs and professional rivalries. However, the selection of such consultants and their compensation, including expense accounts, is one of the “gray” areas of foreign business conduct. If the consultant has strong political or familiar connections with key decision makers, they are both desirable as a consultant and a potential source of suspicion for bribery allegations.


The following example will illustrate some of the complexities of doing business in a foreign country:

You have been hired by an international engineering firm to provide the design team with localized climatological information on precipitation (type, rates, total storm amounts) and wind (speed and direction) along several potential road development corridors in a developing country. To get this consulting job, you took an aggressive stance with price and need to finish your in-country work as soon as possible. While the broad-scale climatological data is available (major cities and airports), the local climatological data and recent local meteorological measurement data along the potential road corridors is available only at selected universities and through the military. You approached the army major in charge of the military's data collection and processing program only to learn that the data you want, while it has been collected and processed, is considered sensitive due to the proximity of unnamed military facilities, and thus is not available to foreigners.

To explore other nonsensitive data sources, you approach the university professor in charge of collecting and processing similar data for civil uses. You are told that this local data is only stored in a “raw” format. The professor suggests that he and his graduate student can process the data into a suitable format for you. They are very willing to give you a “proposal” to perform this work. As a bonus, they imply that they have a special relationship with the army major in charge of the military data collection and can also access this information for processing to format the data at a modest cost. The professor assures you that the “military” data is not sensitive and he can easily send it to you back in the U.S. via e-mail when the processing that will take several weeks is completed. What do you do?

  • Give a grant to the university professor to “process” the civil data and extrapolate it to the full extent of the corridors.

  • Provide additional funding to the university professor to recover the “military” data.

  • Negotiate with the army major to acquire the military data so the full extent of the roadway corridor is covered.

  • Report to the engineering firm the data along the full extent of the corridors cannot be obtained but you will use best practices to extrapolate the required parameters.

  • Hire a local consultant to help clarify the legal status of the data and understand the army major's position.


The question is trust. Can you really trust the university professor? Was the army major truthful or looking for a bribe? Is there any civilian and military data? Will any data you get be reliable or just extrapolations from major stations? Does the data collected and processed by the military have national security value?

The ethical response to these and related questions is best summarized to be above board with the engineering company and to believe, but verify. Ask the engineering firm if they have a local consultant who can validate your perception of what the army major said. If they do, double-check the understanding of the data's sensitivity. If it is confirmed sensitive, you as a “guest” in a foreign country must respect their national security concerns. As for the university professor's offer to process the civilian data, if that is the only way to get the data, a small grant may be appropriate, but not including the military data. As always, a sanity check on the data acquired is appropriate. An analysis of openly available data to verify the general trends and establish correlations between acquired data (double mass analysis) and the openly available data would be advised.


Meteorologists operating in foreign countries have additional ethical issues that must be addressed to account for U.S. law, local laws, local customs, and cultural differences in addition to the ethical standards of the meteorological profession.