Please Don't Take My Sunshine Away
Rick Santorum has introduced a bill to prevent the National Weather
Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
from providing information that is available from a commercial
vendor. The bill is intended to prohibit federal meteorologists
from competing with companies like AccuWeather and the Weather
Currently, forecasts and weather data are available from the
National Weather Service for free primarily through its website.
All of that data may disappear if this bill is passed.
The bill, The National Weather Services Duties Act of 2005, lays
out responsibilities for the government agencies and also sets
limitations. The bill states that the Secretary of Commerce shall,
through the National Weather Service, be responsible for the
preparation and issuance of severe weather forecasts and warnings
designed for the protection of life and property of the general
However, the next section of the bill is what concerns many. It
states that the Secretary of Commerce shall not provide, or assist
other entities in providing, a product or service that is or could
be provided by the private sector unless the Secretary determines
that the private sector is unwilling or unable to provide such
product or service.
Exceptions exist for "Life and Property" and for the government
to to provide products or services under international aviation
Supporters believe the bill will allow the NWS to focus on it's
core missions, but critics argue that the wording of the bill is
vague. A spokesman for Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., told the Palm
Beach Post that the bill threatens to push the weather service back
to a "pre-Internet era". Nelson serves on the Senate Commerce
Committee, which has been assigned to consider the bill.
Some believe that large amounts of federal weather data would
have to be removed from the internet. The commerce secretary,
Carlos Gutierrez, would have to decide what information to provide,
although legal challenges could follow.
Barry Myers, is the executive vice president of AccuWeather,
based in State College, Pa. He said the bill would make the public
safer by allowing the weather service to spend its resources on
hurricanes, tsunamis and other dangers.
"The National Weather Service has not focused on what its core
mission should be, which is protecting other people's lives and
property," said Myers to the Post. "It spends hundreds of millions
of dollars a year, every day, producing forecasts of 'warm and
Accuweather has been critical of the weather service and NOAA.
The company accused federal agencies of withholding data on
hurricanes and other hazards, and failing to ensure that employees
don't feed upcoming forecasts to favored investors in farming and
The competition got
tough last year when NOAA changed a 1991 policy against providing
services that private companies could provide and began offering
raw data on the internet. The agency has improved its web pages and
made them simpler to use.
Although NOAA has not taken sides on the bill, Ed Johnson, the
weather service's director of strategic planning and policy, said
his agency is expanding its online offerings to serve the
"If someone claims that our core mission is just warning the
public of hazardous conditions, that's really impossible unless we
forecast the weather all the time," Johnson said to the Post. "You
don't just plug in your clock when you want to know what time it