FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

What’s Pelosi Afraid Of?

by RALPH NADER

When the Republican Gingrich devolution took over Congress in 1995, it stripped the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) of all its funding and left it a shell with no experts to advise committees and members of Congress.

Whereupon Congress was plunged into a dark age regarding decisions about trillions of national security, offshore oil drilling, transportation, energy, health, computer, biotech, nanotechnology and many other executive branch programs in science and technology.

Confronted with partisan vested interests by federal departments and their corporate lobbies, Congress could not get objective, unbiased reports and testimony from the OTA. For a budget of $20 million a year, OTA ground out over 700 peer reviewed sound reports and many more Congressional testimonies by its staff between 1972 and 1995. Last year Congress had an overall budget for itself of $3.2 billion.

Representative Amo Houghton (R-NY) commented at the time of OTA’s demise that “we are cutting off one of the most important arms of Congress when we cut off unbiased knowledge about science and technology.”

Now, Rush Holt (D-NJ) backed by leading scientists and about 100 citizen, technical and academic groups, organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), is urging Speaker Nancy Pelosi to permit a modest restart of the OTA. As noted above, OTA was never abolished, just defunded.

Speaker Pelosi has been resisting, even though this tiny office can provide members of Congress with the technical assessments that could easily save billions of dollars a year. Apparently, she believes that the Republicans will accuse her of empire building, though the OTA is run by an evenly appointed Democratic-Republican Board of Congressional Overseers.

Without the OTA, commercially driven or otherwise wild claims are made for and against Congressionally funded programs.

The UCS gives many examples of where OTA saved huge amounts of taxpayer money and improved the health, safety and economic well-being of the American people as well. OTA reports, by responding to requests by members of Congress, analyzed what technologies worked or did not work.

After OTA was defunded, the UCS asserts, “the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spent three years pushing for a costly radiation detection system for smuggled nuclear material that did not work as promised, while neglecting to upgrade existing equipment that could have improved security.” Billions of dollars were wasted.

Were it operating today, OTA reports and testimony might question DHS’s installation of whole body back scatter x-ray airport security scanners. Scientific experts are urging independent testing for effectiveness and safety for exposed passengers (see CSRL.org).

On other fronts, Congress is buckling to corporate lobbies and requiring taxpayer guarantees for nuclear power plants that are not nearly as cost effective as energy efficiency and renewables without the perils of atomic power and its unstored radioactive wastes.

The $9 billion a year missile defense project has been condemned as unworkable by the mainstream American Physical Society but the military corporations that receive these boondoggle contracts get it funded year after year.

The risks of nanotechnology, biotechnology and numerous medical devices continue to be unassessed, thereby allowing Congressional advocates to tout benefits and ignore costs.

Congress spends billions of dollars a year on technologies driven by commercial partisan interests, whether from government departments, corporate interests or campaign cash. Congress also ignores promising technologies. Decades of little or no solar energy research and development funding, and billions of dollars into atomic, coal and other fossil fuels, directly or indirectly through tax breaks, have cost Americans in their pocketbooks and in the air and water they breath and drink.

In 1985, OTA issued a report cautioning about the lack of preparedness and knowledge regarding potentially “catastrophic oil spills from offshore operations.” OTA could not follow up on this report, as the oil companies went into deeper seas, because it was silenced in 1995. Clearly, the Minerals Management Service of the Interior Department—a sleazy, wholly-owned subsidiary of Big Oil—was not going to advise Congress truthfully.

Through its impartial assessment capability, OTA could have alerted Congress to defective body armor that unscrupulous companies sold to the Army.

Congress needs an independent, impartial, no-axe-to-grind technical adviser under its own roof and responsive to the unique and timely needs of members of Congress and Congressional committees. Imagine, for example, the computer procurement waste that could have been prevented.

Speaker Pelosi, don’t you want to make this overwhelming case for a revived OTA? Why are you silent when you should be outspoken on behalf of taxpayers and appropriate, safe technology? Be assured that having championed OTA since the days of Director John H. Gibbons many other groups and I will be working to secure your backing sooner rather than later.

RALPH NADER is the author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!, a novel.

 

WORDS THAT STICK

 

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

Weekend Edition
February 12-14, 2016
Andrew Levine
What Next in the War on Clintonism?
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Comedy of Terrors
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh – Anthony A. Gabb
Financial Oligarchy vs. Feudal Aristocracy
Paul Street
When Plan A Meets Plan B: Talking Politics and Revolution with the Green Party’s Jill Stein
Michael Welton
Lenin, Putin and Me
Pepe Escobar
It Takes a Greek to Save Europa
Gerald Sussman
Why Hillary Clinton Spells Democratic Party Defeat
Robert Fantina
The U.S. Election: Any Good News for Palestine?
Linda Pentz Gunter
Radioactive Handouts: the Nuclear Subsidies Buried Inside Obama’s “Clean” Energy Budget
Thomas Stephens
The Flint River Lead Poisoning Catastrophe in Historical Perspective
David Rosen
When Trump Confronted a Transgender Beauty
Binoy Kampmark
Totalitarian Thinking, Feminism and the Clintons
Will Parrish
Cap and Clear-Cut
Victor Grossman
Coming Cutthroats and Parting Pirates
Ben Terrall
Raw Deals: Challenging the Sharing Economy
David Mattson
Divvying Up the Dead: Grizzly Bears in a Post-ESA World
Pete Dolack
More Unemployment and Less Security
Christopher Brauchli
The Cruzifiction of Michael Wayne Haley
Bill Quigley
Law on the Margins: a Profile of Social Justice Lawyer Chaumtoli Huq
Katja Kipping
The Opposite of Transparency: What I Didn’t Read in the TIPP Reading Room
B. R. Gowani
Hellish Woman: ISIS’s Granny Endorses Hillary
Kent Paterson
The Futures of Whales and Humans in Mexico
David Busch
Bernie’s Blinding Light
James Heddle
Why the Current Nuclear Showdown in California Should Matter to You
Michael Howard
Hollywood’s Grotesque Animal Abuse
stclair
Branding Tradition: a Bittersweet Tale of Capitalism at Work
Nozomi Hayase
Assange’s UN Victory and Redemption of the West
Patrick Bond
World Bank Punches South Africa’s Poor, by Ignoring the Rich
Mel Gurtov
Is US-Russia Engagement Still Possible?
Dan Bacher
Governor Jerry Brown Receives Cold, Dead Fish Award Four Years In A Row
Jennifer Matsui
Doglegs, An Unforgettable Film
Soud Sharabani
Israeli Myths: An Interview with Ramzy Baroud
Terry Simons
Bernie? Why Not?
Winslow Myers
Looking for America
Christy Rodgers
Everywhere is War: Luke Mogelson’s These Heroic, Happy Dead: Stories
Tony Christini
Death by Taxes (A Satire of Trump and Clinton)
Ron Jacobs
Springsteen: Rockin’ the House in Albany, NY
Barbara Nimri Aziz
“The Martian”: This Heroism is for Chinese Viewers Too
Charles R. Larson
No Brainers: When Hitler Took Cocaine and Lenin Lost His Brain
February 11, 2016
Bruce Lesnick
Flint: A Tale of Two Cities
Ajamu Baraka
Beyonce and the Politics of Cultural Dominance
Shamus Cooke
Can the Establishment Fix Its Bernie Sanders Problem?
John Hazard
The Pope in Mexico: More Harm Than Good?
Joyce Nelson
Trudeau & the Saudi Arms Deal
Zarefah Baroud
The Ever-Dangerous Mantra “Drill, Baby Drill”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail