May 10, 2005 – A conservative lawmaker is out to prove that even the weather is susceptible to privatization efforts. Under a bill introduced last month by Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pennsylvania), local and state emergency officials, the media, universities, schools, pilots and American taxpayers would not have access to most of the information the National Weather Service (NWS) gathers at public expense.
The National Weather Services Duties Act of 2005 would "clarify the duties and responsibilities" of the NWS and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that oversees it. The measure would prohibit the taxpayer-funded service from providing any information except severe weather warnings - including marine and aviation forecasts, as well as school district, road crew rain and snow level forecasts - in cases where privately-owned companies provide or could provide the same service for a fee.
Santorum's office told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the bill is a job-saving initiative for employees of fourteen private weather service companies in his home state, including AccuWeather, which provides weather information to media organizations. The Post-Gazette noted that Federal Election Commission documents show donors identifying themselves as AccuWeather employees have contributed at least $5,500 to Santorum since 1999.
The National Weather Service Employees Organization, which represents workers who would be significantly impacted by the change, warns that the proposal would "endanger the public by preventing the dissemination of certain weather data." The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association also opposes the measure, saying the free data the NWS provides "are critical to general aviation safety and must be available for use by pilots."