Some time ago, Congress agreed that the Federal Helium Reserve was no longer a national strategic necessity and moved to end the program. Called the Helium Privatization Act of 1996, Congress and President Clinton decided to end the Federal program in an effort to promote private investment in the storage and sale of helium. According to U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, the measure was undertaken because private demand for helium far exceeded the needs of Federal agencies (such as NASA and research institutions). As a result, tax incentives were created to promote private enterprises to enter the Helium market.
By 1998, helium regulations were altered as well to encourage private enterprise to step into the role of producing, maintaining and selling helium (see: http://www.blm.gov/nm/st/en/prog/energy/helium/federal_helium_program.html). With continuous rhetoric about cutting Federal Agencies, Congress with the President's approval, voted to end the Federal Helium Reserve by October 1, 2013. In fact, the closing of the Federal program would cut at least $340 Million over ten years from the Federal budget. It would also create an immediate opportunity for private enterprise to fill the void created by the government departure from the marketplace. Helium is a by-product of natural gas and is used in making products ranging from fiber optic cables to computer chips to MRI machines, so there is a market for the gas. It is also used in the aerospace industry (we commonly associate helium for inflating party balloons or making us all sound like cartoon characters). Although there are currently four private companies producing helium, they do not engage in the active marketing and sale of the gas. Why not? Why hasn't anyone stepped up to the plate to take over this industry (which could lead to a monopoly in the market)?
I have an idea. We know more and more politicians are beginning to see the writing on the wall that their careers are coming to an end. Citizens are getting fed up with politicized rhetoric designed to divide rather than unite our Nation. Perhaps "retired" politicians in Washington should be given stock in a new private enterprise geared towards storing and marketing helium. After all, they are sure qualified to run such a company based on their vast expertise at sounding "cartoonish" while spouting "Hot Air."