Santorum rains on the weatherman

GOP leader Santorum wants the government forecasters to go easy on private companies.

Published May 12, 2005 1:57PM (EDT)

In an unusual twist on traditional Congressional griping about the production level at federal agencies, a Senate leader is pushing legislation to rein in a federal agency because it's doing its job too well. The leader is Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., the GOP's No. 3 in the Senate, and the offending, efficient, over-producing taxpayer-funded agency is the National Weather Service. Its sin is taking business away from private companies, like AccuWeather who want a piece of the five day forecast pie. (In 2004, AccuWeather spent $60,000 lobbying in Washington, D.C.)

Senate bill 786, recently introduced by Santorum, "would prevent the weather service from offering products or services that are or could be offered by private-sector weather companies," according to a report in the Wichita Eagle. In other words, National Weather Service could still issue storm warnings, but free forecasts to the public would be off limits if a private company offered the same information.

The Eagle quoted WeatherData's founder Mike Smith, who suggests the bill's intent "is to have the weather service spend its money and resources on creating more accurate data, more accurate forecasts and more accurate storm warnings, but also to get the weather service out of interfering with the private-sector weather industry. We're just looking for a level playing field."

But the bill has already brought howls of protest, including opposition from private pilots who rely on the National Weather Service's data.

As the Toledo Blade's editorial page puts it today, "If the Postal Service can compete with the likes of Federal Express, the National Weather Service should be allowed to compete with commercial weather forecasters. In any event, the taxpayers need to get the maximum bang for their bucks. This attempt to limit the National Weather Service is all flash and no lightning. "

By Eric Boehlert

Eric Boehlert, a former senior writer for Salon, is the author of "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush."

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