Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

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.

Science Cheerleader Cheers for OTA

Kate Dailey | Newsweek: The Human Condition | September 3, 2009

This blog entry introduces Darlene Cavalier, the Science Cheerleader, who advocates “ensuring that adults grasp how science influences their daily lives.”  She is also an advocate for re-establishing OTA.

The Science Cheerleader invites people to sign a petition to re-open OTA.  It can be found here.

Representative Rush Holt’s Statement at AAAS

Representative Rush Holt prepared the  statement below for the session, “Science Advice for Congress: Do we need a new paradigm?” at the recent meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science:

The accelerating pace at which technology touches every aspect of our lives means that every decision we make in Congress increasingly is influenced by science and technology. While we do not suffer from a lack of information on Capitol Hill, we do not have the time and resources to gauge the validity, credibility, and usefulness of the large amount of information and advice we receive in order to make knowledgeable, well-reasoned decisions on a widerange of issues. The purpose of the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) was to assist Members of Congress in this task.

As a forward-looking entity, OTA both provided an important long-term perspective and alerted Congress to scientific and technological components of policy that might not be obvious. By 1995, for example, OTA already had written on such topics, now current, as “Electronic Surveillance in a Digital Age” and the “Potential Environmental Impacts of Bioenergy Crop Production.” More reports like “Losing a Million Minds: Confronting the Tragedy of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias” might help Congress navigate health care reform. And the additional information that could have been gathered since the 1995 report “Innovation and Commercialization of Emerging Technologies” might have helped guide Congress more effectively through our current economic crisis. A clear appreciation of the current science and technology involved in each of these topics is even more important today than when these assessments were first written.

According to a survey of the 535 members of the 111th Congress, the membership includes three physicists, one chemist, six engineers, and one microbiologist. Most members of Congress avoid science at all costs, but even the handful of trained scientists cannot master the particulars of every issue. The OTA was not there especially for the scientists or exclusively the nonscientists. It was there for all of Congress. Every member needs access to unbiased technical and scientific assessments finished in a timeframe appropriate for Congress, written in a language that is understood by Members of Congress, and crafted by those who are familiar with the functions of Congress. The issues have grown more complex, but our tools to evaluate and understand them have not kept pace.

When OTA was disbanded, Congress gave itself a lobotomy. Our national policies have suffered ever since. In the years since the demise of the OTA, no group or combination of groups has been able to assume OTA’s place as the provider of scientific and technical assessment and advice to Congress. It is important to recognize that policy decisions are value judgments that cannot be made by the balance of facts alone. But it is critical that policymakers have the facts they need to make wise choices. In the absence of OTA, we have not gotten the information – or the analysis – we need to do the people’s work. We need the help that only an office like OTA, one that is of Congress and for Congress, can provide.

AAAS To Hold Session About Reinstating OTA

Science advice for Congress: Do we need a new paradigm?

Rush Holt, (D-NJ), U.S. House of Representatives:

Reinstating the Office of Technology Assessment: A View from Congress”

Christopher Hill, George Mason University:

Science and Technology Information for Congress: Can Wikipedia Do the Job?”

David Goldston, Harvard University:

“Alternatives for Providing Reliable Technical Advice to Congress”

DISCUSSANT: Granger Morgan, Carnegie Mellon University

MODERATOR: Gerald L. Epstein, Center for Strategic & International Studies

Congress faces policy decisions that often hinge on complex technical content. At the same time, lawmakers are deluged with scientific information of widely disparate quality and have little in-house ability to evaluate it. The Congressional Office of Technology Assessment provided rigorous, bipartisan, scientific and technological advice to Congress for nearly two decades before being eliminated in 1995. This session will focus on how to effectively place scientific and technical information into a policy context, analyze it, and communicate it to policy makers and the public.

At the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS),

Saturday, February 14, 2009, 8:30AM-10:00AM

Hyatt Regency, Columbus Room AB, 151 East Wacker Drive, Chicago, Illinois

For further information, please contact the organizers:

Tony Fainberg, Institute for Defense Analyses; ([email protected])

Gerald L. Epstein, Center for Strategic and International Studies; ([email protected])

Document of the day: losses from friendly fire can be reduced

The Office of Technology Assessment, like any successful organization, used regular self-evaluation to ensure that Congress got the most out of OTA reports. In response to suggestions from members of Congress and Hill staff, OTA created report briefs. These two to four page documents summarized the main points of a full report in simple, direct language. Today’s document is one of those report briefs, “The tragic loss of life from ‘friendly fire’ can be reduced”. It beings as follows:

The disturbing incidents of ‘friendly fire’ deaths suffered by the United States and its allies in the Persian Gulf War focused new attention on an old problem. U.S. forces shooting at their own units caused 24 percent of U.S. combat deaths in the war. The fraction of losses due to friendly fire, or fratricide, seemed extraordinarily high and caused considerable public concern and international friction. The OTA report, Who Goes There: Friend or Foe?, explores the causes of friendly fire and some of the remedies that might be found in new technology, training, and doctrine.

Click here to read the full 1993 OTA report, “Who goes there: friend or foe?”

More report briefs will be posted on this page in the coming days.

Watch Rush Holt talk about OTA

FAS recently sat down with Congressman Rush Holt, a former physicist representing the 12th district of New Jersey, to get his perspective on what OTA meant to Congress and the Nation.

Congressman Rush Holt discusses the Office of Technology Assessment
Interview with the Federation of American Scientists, June 2008