FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Political Science

by RALPH NADER

Newt Gingrich has been called a “futurist”, a “policy wonk”, an advocate of adapting technology to human efficiencies, among other less flattering descriptions. So what did he do the year he took over the House of Representatives from the Democrats in 1995–the so-called Gingrich Revolution? He terminated the technical-scientific brains of the Congress which was the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA).

The OTA from 1972 to 1995 provided Congress and the public with critical analyses and reports of the difficult issues interfacing science, technology and society before Congress. When Gingrich abolished the OTA, its total annual budget was $22 million a year–a drop in the bucket compared to the immense Congressional budget of salaries, perks, benefits and pensions.

At the beginning, OTA was supported by both Democrats and Republicans. Year after year its skilled, non-partisan staff generated many reports as an advisory arm of Congress. With a staff of about 140 specialists, OTA delivered over 750 public reports to its Congressional overseers, not to mention responding to thousands of inquiries and testifying before House and Senate Committees.

OTA had to tackle subjects that were very controversial, especially in corporate lobbying circles. They did studies on defensive medicine that the hospital-medical lobby did not like, on access to public buses by people with disabilities that Greyhound did not welcome, on the auto industry that displeased General Motors and on climate change that the fossil-fuel industry (oil, coal and gas) did not approve. Get the idea.

When the Gingrich-Republican darker ages took over Capitol Hill, the princes of darkness determined that they did not want to know what OTA knew. They did not want their corporate masters to be impeached by an arm of their Congress. Too much credibility there.

It didn’t even matter that many of OTA reports were exceedingly important but not directly addressed to some industrial or commercial derelictions. For example, given the Katrina debacle, wouldn’t OTA have been more than a little relevant alerting Congress from time to time to its January 1980 report titled U.S. Disaster Assistance to Developing Countries: Lessons Applicable to U.S. Domestic Disaster Programs?

OTA, under the leadership of physicist Jack Gibbons, became such a trusted and professional organization that representatives from some 25 countries visited the agency to learn from its example in 1983 alone. The parliaments of the United Kingdom and Germany established similar science/technology advisory bodies.

After Gingrich disbanded the OTA, M. Granger Morgan, professor and head of the Department of Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University wrote: “Congress had ‘chosen’ ignorance, and ended the 23-year history of its best and smallest agency.”

It is time to reinstate the Enlightenment for a Congress besieged as never before with decisions regarding genetic engineering, missile defense, privacy, citizen surveillance, nanotechnology, stagnant automotive technology, global warming and many other perils and promises.

Congressman Rush Holt (D-New Jersey), a scientist from Princeton, introduced legislation to start up a similar Center for Science and Technology Assessment in the form of an amendment to H.R. 4755 in July 2004. It did not make it, receiving 115 yes votes to 252 no votes. In my judgment, roughly one third of Congress right now, without any added persuasion or outside mobilization, would vote for such a capability.

So imagine if the leaders of the scientific and engineering worlds organized themselves to mount a greatly needed effort in Congress. Imagine the heads of our leading universities like MIT and CalTech, along with scores of Nobel Prize winners and heads of prominent foundations bestirring themselves, along with people who were prominent in OTA years ago. Some of these people are close to influential political figures. It would happen. And not a day too soon.

To sample the OTA Reports, go to http://www.wws.princeton.edu/ota.

To join this effort to reinstate OTA, write to OTA Reborn at PO Box 19312, Washington, DC 20036.

 

 

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
May 26, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Swamp Politics, Trump Style: “Russiagate” Diverts From the Real White House Scandals
Paul Street
It’s Not Gonna Be Okay: the Nauseating Nothingness of Neoliberal Capitalist and Professional Class Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
The ICEmen Cometh
Ron Jacobs
The Deep State is the State
Pete Dolack
Why Pence Might be Even Worse Than Trump
Patrick Cockburn
We Know What Inspired the Manchester Attack, We Just Won’t Admit It
Thomas Powell
The Dirty Secret of the Korean War
Mark Ashwill
The Fat Lady Finally Sings: Bob Kerrey Quietly Resigns from Fulbright University Vietnam Leadership Position
John Davis
Beyond Hope
Uri Avnery
The Visitation: Trump in Israel
Ralph Nader
The Left/Right Challenge to the Failed “War on Drugs”
Traci Yoder
Free Speech on Campus: a Critical Analysis
Dave Lindorff
Beware the Supporter Scorned: Upstate New York Trump Voters Hit Hard in President’s Proposed 2018 Budget
Daniel Read
“Sickening Cowardice”: Now More Than Ever, Britain’s Theresa May Must be Held to Account on the Plight of Yemen’s Children
Ana Portnoy
Before the Gates: Puerto Rico’s First Bankruptcy Trial
M. Reza Behnam
Rethinking Iran’s Terrorism Designation
Brian Cloughley
Ukraine and the NATO Military Alliance
Josh Hoxie
Pain as a Policy Choice
David Macaray
Stephen Hawking Needs to Keep His Mouth Shut
Ramzy Baroud
Fear as an Obstacle to Peace: Why Are Israelis So Afraid?
Kathleen Wallace
The Bilious Incongruity of Trump’s Toilet
Seth Sandronsky
Temping Now
Alan Barber – Dean Baker
Blue Collar Blues: Manufacturing Falls in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania in April
Jill Richardson
Saving America’s Great Places
Richard Lawless
Are Credit Rating Agencies America’s Secret Fifth Column?
Louis Proyect
Venezuela Reconsidered
Murray Dobbin
The NDP’s Singh and Ashton: Flash Versus Vision
Ron Leighton
Endarkenment: Postmodernism, Identity Politics, and the Attack on Free Speech
Anthony Papa
Drug War Victim: Oklahoma’s Larry Yarbrough to be Freed after 23 Years in Prison
Rev. John Dear
A Call to Mobilize the Nation Over the Next 18 Months
Yves Engler
Why Anti-Zionism and Anti-Jewish Prejudice Have to Do With Each Other
Ish Mishra
Political Underworld and Adventure Journalism
Binoy Kampmark
Roger Moore in Bondage
Rob Seimetz
Measuring Manhoods
Edward Curtin
Sorry, You’re Not Invited
Vern Loomis
Winning the Lottery is a State of Mind
Charles R. Larson
Review: Mary V. Dearborn’s “Ernest Hemingway”
David Yearsley
The Ethos of Mayfest
May 25, 2017
Jennifer Matsui
The Rise of the Alt-Center
Michael Hudson
Another Housing Bubble?
Robert Fisk
Trump Meets the New Leader of the Secular World, Pope Francis
John Laforge
Draft Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons Unveiled
Benjamin Dangl
Trump’s Budget Expands War on the Backs of America’s Poor
Alice Donovan
US-Led Air Strikes Killed Record Number of Civilians in Syria
Andrew Moss
The Meaning of Trump’s Wall
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail