Archive for the 'Flash from the OTA Archive' Category

Memories of McNamara

The Honorable Robert M. McNamara reflected upon the Cuban Missile Crisis, among other topics, at a forum for the 20th anniversary of OTA.  He concluded that we should seek to return to a non-nuclear world as far as achievable and he recommended that the international community redouble its efforts to limit the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

The Soviet Union, Cuba, and the United States brought the world to the brink of a nuclear disaster in October, 1962, as a result of the distortions of misinformation, miscalculation, and misjudgment of their political leaders, according to McNamara, a former Secretary of Defense and former President of The World Bank.

“In this age of high-technology weaponry, crisis management is dangerous, difficult, and uncertain.  Therefore it is crisis avoidance that is important,” McNamara said.  The combination of human fallibility and nuclear weapons carries a very high risk of destroying not tens or hundreds of thousands of lives but of destroying nations.

Stopping the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the means of delivering them, according to McNamara, would require some form of collective security action by a multinational institution such as the United Nations.

“To begin with the council should agree to prohibit the development, production, or purchase of any of those weapons,” he said.  Any country violating that ban should be subjected to strict economic sanctions and if sanctions failed, then U.N. military action would be necessary.  Countries currently possessing these weapons- including the United States- would be subject to international inspections and control, and would be asked to approve a treaty prohibiting their first use.

McNamara said that a system for collective action would allow reductions of military spending and the huge savings could be used to address the pressing human physical and infrastructure needs across the globe.

“If development that meets the needs of all social groups is to occur, if democracy is to spread, there must be … a relatively equitable distribution of resources.   That is not occurring today,” McNamara said.  He pointed out that in many parts of the world, military expenditures strengthen the political influence of the armed forces at the expense of the civil groups and economic systems function primarily to befit a relatively limited number of people.

“I think the international community needs to identify ways in which it can reward those countries that reduce security and related expenditures in favor of development,” McNamara said.  He strongly urged linking financial assistance to developing countries to their movement toward optimal levels of military expenditures.

” If together we are bold, if east and west and north and south dare break out of the mindsets that have guided …our actions for the past four decades, we can reshape international institutions,  …we can reshape relations among nations,  …and we can dramatically reduce military expenditures, which have been a derivative of those relationships and we do so in a ways which will lead to a more peaceful world, a more prosperous world, for all of the peoples of this interdependent world, McNamara said.

“It’s the first time in my adult life that we have had such an opportunity.  Pray God we seize it,” he concluded.

OTA’s Forum on Technology and Governance in the 1990’s was hosted by the Technology Assessment Board for Congress on January 27, 1993.  Robert McNamara’s full presentation and others with questions and answers are available at the OTA Archive.

OTA on Financial Services Industry

A 1990 OTA report, Electronic Bulls and Bears: U.S. Securities Markets and Information Technology,  notes that “Computer-assisted trading strategies can cause short-term price volatility, or spread selling or buying pressure from one market to others.”  The report was written in response to requests by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the House Committee on Government Operations to assess the role of communication and information technologies in the securities markets.

OTA said, “Futures and options markets are criticized for developing products that are suspected of increasing the likelihood of a market crash. These problems call for a re-examination of public policies including changes in the regulatory structure.”  The report also states, “The private sector cannot achieve, without government assistance, some of the necessary adjustments to keep American markets strongly competitive and to protect American investors and financial systems.”

In another 1990 report, Trading Around the Clock: Global Securities Markets and Information Technology, OTA describes the forces encouraging the development of international securities markets, the obstacles that must be overcome, and the major sources of unnecessary risk.  The report describes three possible international regulatory schemes and states, “Effective response to a major securities market break will in the future require international as well as domestic actions. The central issue may be how to prevent a liquidity crisis from becoming a solvency crisis.”

In a 1984 report, Effects of Information Technology on Financial Services Systems, OTA described new technologies and other changes in the financial service industry and warned that in large amounts of funds were being moved from accounts that are insured and closely supervised to accounts that offer higher return but have little, if any, Federal protection.  This report was part of a study requested in 1982 by the House Committee on Banking, Finance, and Urban Affairs; the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.  The committees requested OTA to study the impacts of information processing and telecommunication technologies on financial service systems.

OTA on Energy, Part 4

We conclude our weekly feature on OTA reports related to energy policy with these four reports. Two examine energy security related to a disruption in U.S oil imports, and the other two discuss oil and gas exploration in the arctic and off the coast of the continental U.S. Our posts from earlier in the week are available here, here, and here.

U.S. Vulnerability to an Oil Import Curtailment, September 1984
“This report responds to a request by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations for an analysis of the U.S. oil replacement capability in the event of an oil supply shortfall of indefinite duration.”

Oil and Gas Technologies for the Arctic and Deepwater, May 1985
“This assessment addresses the technologies, the economics, and the operational and environmental factors affecting the exploration and development of energy resources in the deepwater and Arctic regions of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) and the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) established in March 1983.”

Oil Production in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: The Technology and the Alaskan Oil Context, February 1989
“In deciding the future of the ANWR coastal plain, Congress must address a wide variety of issues ranging from the environmental impacts of oilfield exploration, development, and production in an Arctic environment to the economic and national security benefits of potential additional oil production in Alaska…This report presents the results of an assessment of a subset of these issues focusing in particular on: the oilfield technology being used to develop the Alaskan North Slope’s oil resources and the likely configuration of that technology as it might be applied in the future to the coastal plain; and the prospects for future North Slope oil production, especially the likelihood that the flow of oil through the Trans Alaskan Pipeline System will suffer a serious decline during the next decade.”

U.S. Oil Import Vulnerability: The Technical Replacement Capability, October 1991
“Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 triggered a long-dormant awareness of this Nation’s vulnerability to disruptions in foreign oil supplies. Amid heightened concern over the potential impacts on U.S. oil supplies of prolonged hostilities in the Middle East, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources asked OTA to update the conclusions of our 1984 report, U.S. Vulnerability to an Oil Import Curtailment…The report’s conclusion that U.S. capability to replace lost oil imports is shrinking should be sobering to those who believe that there are quick and easy technological solutions, or that market forces alone will be sufficient to overcome the substantial economic and social dislocations that could result from a prolonged major oil disruption.”

OTA on Energy, Part 3

As part of our feature on OTA documents related to energy policy (click here for part 1 and here for part 2) we highlight four more reports that discuss emerging technologies.

Enhanced Oil Recovery Potential in the United States, January 1978
“It is estimated that about 300 billion barrels of discovered oil remain in the United States. However, conventional techniques of extraction can deliver only 10 percent of that oil economically, or about 30 billion barrels. What about the remaining 270 billion barrels? This report assesses the potential of enhanced recovery techniques for freeing more of this oil from the sandstone and limestone formations in which it is trapped.”

Application of Solar Technology to Today’s Energy Needs—Vol. I, June 1978
Application of Solar Technology to Today’s Energy Needs—Vol. II, September 1978
“This report reviews a range of solar energy systems designed to produce thermal and electrical energy directly from sunlight with units small enough to be located on or near the buildings they are designed to serve.”

Energy From Biological Processes, July 1980
“Energy from the conversion of wood and other plant matter represents an important underexploited resource in the United States. As renewable, abundant, and domestic energy resources, these and other sources of biomass can help the United States reduce its dependence on imported oil. The amount of energy supplied by biomass, now relatively small, could expand rapidly in the next two decades— a period when the Nation’s energy problems will be particularly acute.”

OTA on Energy, Part 2

We’re continuing our feature of OTA reports related to energy policy (for yesterday’s post click here). Here are four reports that mainly focus on energy efficiency and conservation.

Residential Energy Conservation, July 1979
“This report is the result of a request from the Technology Assessment Board that the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) analyze the potential for conserving energy in homes in terms of energy and costs. The report reviews existing and promising technologies, and a broad set of issues affecting why these technologies are or are not used, how their level of use and effectiveness can be improved, and related Federal programs and policies.”

Building Energy Efficiency, May 1992
“Energy issues are of continuing policy concern, due to the crucial role played by energy in environmental quality, economic vitality, and national security. In recent reports OTA has suggested that energy efficiency is a critical component of a comprehensive policy framework to further these issues. This report addresses energy use and efficiency in U.S. buildings, which account for over one-third of U.S. energy consumption.”

Saving Energy in U.S. Transportation, July 1994
“This report assesses an array of transportation policies designed to reduce energy use and describes the intersection of these policies with general transportation problems such as congestion and air pollution.”

Renewing Our Energy Future, September 1995
“This study evaluates the potential for cost-effective renewable energy in the coming decades and the actions that have to be taken to achieve the potential.”