Senate Attempt to Cripple the National Weather Service

A fellow Republican, otherwise typically on the right track, has disappointed me greatly. Sen. Rick Santorum, representing Pennsylvania, no doubt is giving Democrats plenty of ammunition with his ill-conceived, dangerously naive and overly vague bill — the National Weather Service Duties Act of 2005.

This bill (which I have reproduced here from the public record) is intended to stop the National Weather Service from providing weather information to taxpayers that already has been paid for by the taxpayers, under the guise of preventing public-private competition.

The wording of the bill is so nebulous that typically over-cautious NOAA bureaucrats easily could be scared by private sector attack dogs (such as one I’ll mention below) into the most draconian interpretation: You may get no public weather forecasts, no severe weather or tropical outlooks, no fire weather forecasts. You may get nothing but watches and warnings, and perhaps not even those — if packaged in any “value added” way, such as graphics on the web. Any and all web pages from your National Weather Service could be interpreted as value added and, therefore, killed.

One media article on this bill is available from the Palm Beach Post, at least as of this writing. The Post fails to mention that it is a client of AccuWeather, a company headquartered in Santorum’s jurisdiction of State College, PA, and which stands to gain handsomely from any degradation or reduction of National Weather Service functions.

Unfortunately, this is what happens when there are politicians of either party who have been either

1. Hopelessly uninformed and unaware about the subject matter of the bill they propose,

2. In the pockets of their PR-savvy, persistent, special-interest contributors, as I will illustrate for this case shortly, and/or

3. Have good ol’ boy connections with their special interests, particularly in the home state, which biases their votes and bill writing in favor of those interests’ pork proposals.

In this case, it’s all three! Elaborating further on each point above:

1. There is not one meteorologist or earth scientist of any sort in either house of Congress. These folks are depending on staffers, none of whom are themselves earth scientists, to feed them information regarding the state of our nation’s weather research and forecasting efforts. That means media reports about atmospheric science issues, which are notoriously ill-informed, oversimplified and inaccurate — even in the media that covers science!

Government meteorologists, who are in the best position to educate lawmakers about their conditions, aren’t allowed to “lobby” members of Congress by law (Hatch Act). True, a very small minority of government meteorologists are forecasters in the NWSEO union, who can write to members of Congress, but only on union letterhead. Even then, only a tiny minority of NWSEO members bother.

This means that, in effect, the only professional weather voice avalable to Senators and Representatives about forecasting issues is those of the most powerful private sector companies, such as AccuWeather and WeatherData. That voice is united against NWS forecasting, and can afford potent PR and lobbying efforts. No wonder Rick Santorum doesn’t know any better! The only loud voice he hears is of one side of the argument from his college town; and in politics, money talks the loudest. This brings me to…

2. My calculations from Federal Election Commission records show that Joel Myers and Barry Myers of Accuweather have given at least $6250 to Rick Santorum’s campaigns, of which $700 was refunded, for a net AccuWeather affiliated contribution of $5550. This does not include contributions that may have been made by any other AccuWeather employees, contractors or affiliates.

3. Santorum, along with fellow Penn State alumnus and AccuWeather head Joel Myers, got their degrees from Penn State, in AccuWeather’s headquarters of State College PA. AccuWeather also employs hundreds of Santorum’s home-state constituents and has fought the National Weather Service for years through lobbying intended to reduce its role, at great potential profit to AccuWeather. This bill, therefore, is a pork-barrel enterprise of the most blatant order.

The Palm Beach Post left out some inportant insight, quite possibly because of their unacknowledged conflict of interest in reporting on a firm with whom thay have a business relationship. That insight instead can be found (for now) on the Raw Story site. Raw Story also reveals contributions that Joel’s brother Barry Myers, also of AccuWeather, made to Santorum. [Beware — Raw Story pumps pop-up ads into your computer!]

Clearly something smells fishy inside the halls of the Capitol, not that it would be the first time. This bill has nothing to do with protecting the public. Instead it aims to do just the opposite — to put another layer between you and critical weather data that you already have paid for with your tax dollars — a layer you will have to pay for yet again.

As a union steward in the NWSEO, you can bet I will be getting involved, and so should every other NWSEO member, on behalf of all their fellow forecasters who are legally censored from such political activity by the Hatch Act. So should you, if you do not desire to pay twice for your weather forecasts and data.

Write Senator Santorum, as well as the two senators from your state, to express your thoughts on the National Weather Service Duties Act of 2005. Encourage Sen. Santorum to get off the bandwagon of destruction of our weather forecast system, and off the dole of those who stand to gain financially from your National Weather Service’s downfall.

Thanks to a bunch of folks, but especially bc, for alerting me to various stories about this bill.


One Response to “Senate Attempt to Cripple the National Weather Service”

  1. Bobby coleman on July 19th, 2006 1:19 am

    [Editor’s note: Fixed a few misspellings and capitalization errors…]

    I think that Senator Santorum’s bill should not be passed, because like so many other people have mentioned it would hurt the general public. It would be more money for the larger weather firms
    although it provide more time for the NWS to work on better improvements in the warning of severe weather. I think that would be the only benfit from all this, which is very important. Therefore I am not for the bill, because as a tax payer, why should I pay twice for info I get free?

    Bobby coleman

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