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.”

Holt Pushes to Re-Fund OTA

Jordy Yager | The Hill | February 24, 2010

Rush Holt (D- N.J.) testified at a hearing of the House Legislative Branch Subcommittee on Appropriations according to this blog post.   Holt pushed to re-fund OTA because  Congress needs  science and technology advice now more than ever, according to The Hill.

The Subcommittee  chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said, “I want there to be more clear bipartisan support from the subcommittee, so we’re a long way from getting there, and we have to make sure that leadership is supportive of it,”  Yager reported.

Punditry Contestant Recommends OTA

Marisa Katz | Washington Post | October 30, 2009

The Washington Post is sponsoring “America’s Next Great Pundit Contest.” The Post received 4,800 entries from people who hoped to write better commentary than they had been reading.   The Post selected ten entries to move to the next level of the competition. The winner of the contest will be  hired to write a weekly column.

Among the ten finalists was the Nobel Prize -winning physicist, Burton Richter,  who opined about  the need for Congress to  re-establish the Office of Technology Assessment. He pointed out that a 1974 OTA report, “Drug Bioequivalence,” is relevant in recent discussions of health care costs.  He also recommended  one of his favorite OTA reports, “Renewing Our Energy Future,” which discussed the potential of secondary sources for biofuels.

According to Richter, “A new OTA will not settle all the arguments because there are political dimensions to major technical issues, but at least it can help Congress arrive at a common starting point for complicated legislation.”

Kevin Drum of Mother Jones News kindly provided a  summary of the columns at “Pundit Watch” for those wishing to save a little time.

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.

Memories of Senator Kennedy

In his long career of public service, Senator Edward  Kennedy championed good governance, as demonstrated by his enduring support for the Office of Technology Assessment.

Speaking on March 2, 1972 in support of the legislation that created OTA, he said:

Technology Assessment refers to matters of the utmost importance and urgency to those of us in the Congress and to each of our citizens.  Like it or not, science and technology have become central to our civilization, to our economic strength, to the preservation of our environment, and to the quality of our lives.

What citizen does not have vital data on himself stored in some computer memory cell?  Who is not at the mercy of far-reaching power blackouts and brownouts?  How many citizens are impervious to the transportation snarls that strangle our cities?  What family will not someday be dependent on the outmoded medical technology which prevails in far too many of our hospitals?

Which one of us doesn’t daily take some chemical additives with his food?  Or hasn’t used some medication which FDA hasn’t yet certified as effective?  Who doesn’t breathe the pollution in our air?  Or regret the filth in our rivers and streams?

We live in a world increasingly shaped by man, and technology is the principal tool he uses to shape it.

He favored OTA as a way of assuring that new technological developments would be “channeled so as to achieve the maximum benefit for humanity.”  The transcript of the hearing can be found here in the archive.  (The quote above is from pages 35-36.)

Senator Kennedy was the first chairman of  OTA’s Technology Assessment Board and served on its Board throughout OTA’s entire existence, until the agency was disbanded in 1995.

Near the end of OTA, on July 20, 1995, Senator Kennedy again spoke on the floor of the Senate in defense of OTA:

In the years ahead, as we move into the 21st century, there will be even greater need to rely on OTA for impartial assessment of technology-related policies.  The world of science and its impact on public policy are becoming more complex, not less.  Technology is central to every aspect of American life, from biotechnology to law enforcement, from agriculture to education.  It would be a serious mistake to limit our ability as a legislature to evaluate and respond to the scientific and technological challenges facing Congress, the Administration, and the Nation.