Archive for the 'Legislative actions' Category

Opportunities for Congress to Increase Transparency

Daniel Schuman | Sunlight Foundation Blog | May 24, 2012

The Sunlight Foundation, in this blog post,  calls on the House Legislative Branch Appropriations Committee to take measures to improve transparency and openness.  Its recommendations  include reinstating the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), as well as improving public access to legislative information in THOMAS, continuing to fund the Office of Congressional Ethics, requiring  the Congressional Research Service to publish its reports online, frequently updating the  Constitution Annotated (CONAN) online,  making reports to Congress from federal agencies  available online, and publishing House spending information in a data-friendly format.

According to the Sunlight Foundation Blog, the House has promised “to implement common-sense transparency measures this session.”

Holt’s New Proposal to Restart OTA

James Dupree | Washington Insider | July 21, 2011

Washington Insider discussed the amendments to the 2012 Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill  including one submitted by Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ)  to re-establish OTA:

SEC. 211. There is appropriated, for salaries and expenses of the Office of Technology Assessment as authorized by the Technology Assessment Act of 1972 (2 U.S.C.471 et seq.),  hereby derived from the amount provided in this Act for the payment to the House Historic Buildings  Revitalization Trust Fund, $2,500,000.

According to Climate Science Watch blog   Michael Halpern of the Union of Concerned Scientists, as well as a number of other scientific,  transparency, public health, and public interest groups, urged members to support Holt’s amendment.

The ASBMB Policy Blotter  blog post pointed out that that OTA “was a leader in practicing and encouraging delivery of public services in innovative and inexpensive ways.”

The amendment was voted down 176 to 235.  The results of the roll call vote can be seen here.

Leschine Testifies on Oil Spill

Thomas Leschine | June 9, 2010

Prof. Leschine recently spoke about the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico at a hearing of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

In his testimony, Leschine said that inadequate risk assessment and underfunding of technologies for prevention and response have added to the problem.  Leschine directs the School of Marine Affairs at the College of Environment of the University of Washington.

Massive amounts of dispersants have been injected into the oil plume  with very little understanding about their effect on the environment,  Leschine added.

In his testimony Leschine pointed to an OTA report saying:

In 1990, shortly after the Exxon Valdez spill, the U.S. Office of Technology Assessment prepared at the request of the Congress a Background Paper, Coping with An Oiled Sea: An Analysis of Oil Spill Response Technologies. The report, strongly influenced by events then still unfolding in Prince William Sound, warned that future spills could easily overwhelm the technologies we had. It also cautioned that we can’t prepare for every contingency. The risk will never be zero. It found that industry had focused its efforts on preparing for small, relatively easily controllable spills in harbors and sheltered areas, and that it had likely oversold its ability to respond to major spills. Major spills in open water had up to that point seen recovery rates of no more than 10% of oil spilled, 6-8% in the case of Exxon Valdez, despite billions spent on response. I believe that this picture has not changed much today.

The OTA report found that the relative rarity of major spills was a major impediment to a sustained effort that would yield a higher-impact technology development program. The good news, perhaps, it also found the problem to be less a matter of needing dramatic engineering breakthroughs and more one requiring simply good engineering and sustained attention. It highlighted the need for good design and maintenance, training in deployment and use, and pre-positioning of response equipment in adequate quantities and types to deal with the really big events, like now. The report focused on technology to be sure, but also on decision-making, logistics, and training. Soft technologies, in other words.

In my view, OTA’s findings remain largely valid today, twenty years later. In many ways we are better prepared, but progress has been in fits and starts, issue attention cycle at work in my view. A robust approach to filling the tool kit, with the right hard and soft technologies, is needed.

Congress Needs the OTA

Science | April 10, 2010

According to a blog post, “Congressional staffers need access to timely and top quality science advice on the issues before their Members.”

To achieve this, U.S. Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ), a Science Debate co-chair, is working with the Union of Concerned Scientists(UCS)  to re-instate OTA.  UCS has written a letter from scientists ready for your signature.

Bring Sound Advice to Congress

Matthew Madia | OMB Watch | February 24, 2010

“Many moons ago, Congress relied on facts, science, and other evidence to guide its thinking and make decisions,” according to this blog.  One source that provided  sound information to Congress was OTA, Madia said.

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) is pushing to reinstate OTA in the 2011 budget. Information about their effort is available at UCS’s website. UCS’s  letter to Congress supporting reinstatment of OTA has been signed by dozens of organizations interested in good government.  UCS  has also drafted a letter for scientists to send to their representatives in support of  OTA’s renewal.

OTA Reboot

Aliya Sternstein | nextgov/Tech Insider | February 24, 2010

A blog post discusses a push by scientists, engineers and  Rush Holt (D-NJ), to “resuscitate” OTA.  Francesca Grifo from the Union of Concerned Scientists, testifying before the House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee, said that having sound technical advice can save money by improving policy decisionmaking. Grifo’s testimony is available here.

According to Tech Insider:

Grifo’s organization estimates that the office cost Congress about $20 million annually but, since its extinction, the federal government has squandered billions of dollars on failed systems, including virtual fences to guard the U.S-Mexico border and baggage screening equipment.

Grifo points out in her testimony that other agencies that advise the Congress – the National Academies, the Congressional Research Service, and the Government Accountability Office – have important and related missions but “they cannot meet these needs and replace what the OTA was able to do.”