Behind the Buoy

By Richard Schwartz Publisher & Founder
By Michael G. Sciulla Editor & Associate Publisher

September 2005

Not since the federal government proposed to levy a “luxury tax” on recreational boats 20 years ago has a legislative proposal drawn as much scorn as S. 786, the National Weather Services Duties Act of 2005, introduced by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) on April 14, the day before our federal taxes were due.

In short, Santorum’s proposal would prohibit the National Weather Service from providing anything but “The preparation and issuance of severe weather forecasts and warnings designed for the protection of life and property of the general public.”

The senator’s position is simple. The National Weather Service — funded by the taxpayers — should do all of the work of collecting, analyzing and modeling the information necessary to forecast the nation’s weather. However, once the information is in hand, the agency would be prohibited from disseminating the forecasts to the public except in instances of “severe” weather. The bill then directs the National Weather Service to provide “all data, information, guidance, forecasts, and warnings received, collected, created or prepared” to private sector companies like those in the Commercial Weather Services Association.

The bill could also be interpreted as actually prohibiting NWS meteorologists from being interviewed on “free” network news broadcasts if their information was not made available simultaneously to such companies as AccuWeather.

The ink was barely dry on the proposal when the powerful Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) — whose private pilot members rely on the National Weather’s Service and its forecasts as much as recreational boaters — launched a full-scale broadside that was quickly picked up by the national media. For a review of this media coverage go to

Inquiring minds wanted to know why the Keystone State senator — who is both behind in the polls in his re-election bid and at the same time considering running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 — would want to go after and carve up an “apple pie and motherhood” agency of government which is highly regarded by the American public. It’s said in Washington, DC, that success in lobbying is a function of connections.

By the strangest of coincidences, it just so happens that the chairman of the Commercial Weather Services Association’s Legislative Committee, also a member of its Board, is employed by AccuWeather which is headquartered in State College, Pennsylvania.

Now, it's not altogether unusual in our Nation's Capital for there to be such a confluence of influences. But, what is especially disturbing about this particular piece of legislation is that its sponsor, its backers and the legislation itself go to great lengths to state or profess that nothing will change and that all this is simply about trying to keep the federal government from competing with the private sector. If you believe that, we’ve got some prime swamp land in Louisiana that we’d like to sell you for condo development.

All of this might have been much to do about nothing and at first blush, we were not terribly concerned about Sen. Santorum’s bill because it was so broadly written and had alarmed so many that it looked like it would sink under its own weight.

But, we have recently come to find that the Commercial Weather Services Association has hired some very talented and well-connected lobbyists — former senior congressional staffers — who in our view at least — have the capability of getting this bill slipped into any omnibus bill moving through Congress.

For this reason alone we urge you to review the information on S. 786 that is available on and contact your home state's senators and ask that they take a position in opposition to S. 786.

P.S. By the way, if you receive a “Thank you for your recent letter in opposition to S. 786…I'll keep your thoughts in mind” letter from your senator, write back and say that you are a constituent and you would like to know their position now. Please keep us in the loop by sending a copy of any such replies to or by mail to BoatU.S. Government Affairs, 880 S. Pickett St., Alexandria, VA 22304.

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