FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Political Science

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.

 

 

More articles by:

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

Weekend Edition
November 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Tracey L. Rogers
Dear White Women, There May be Hope for You After All
Faisal Khan
Is Dubai Really a Destination of Choice?
Arnold August
The Importance of Néstor García Iturbe, Cuban Intellectual
James Munson
An Indecisive War To End All Wars, I Mean the Midterm Elections
Nyla Ali Khan
Women as Repositories of Communal Values and Cultural Traditions
Thomas Knapp
Scott Gottlieb’s Nicotine Nazism Will Kill Kids, Not Save Them
Dan Bacher
Judge Orders Moratorium on Offshore Fracking in Federal Waters off California
Christopher Brauchli
When Depravity Wins
Robert Koehler
The New Abnormal
Robby Sherwin
Here’s an Idea
Louis Proyect
The Mafia and the Class Struggle (Part Two)
Elliot Sperber
All of Those Bezos
November 15, 2018
Kenneth Surin
Ukania: the Land Where the Queen’s Son Has His Shoelaces Ironed by His Valet
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Spraying Poisons, Chasing Ghosts
Anthony DiMaggio
In the Wake of the Blue Wave: the Midterms, Recounts, and the Future of Progressive Politics
Christopher Ketcham
Build in a Fire Plain, Get What You Deserve
Meena Miriam Yust
Today It’s Treasure Island, Tomorrow Your Neighborhood Store: Could Local Currencies Help?
Karl Grossman
Climate of Rage
Walter Clemens
How Two Demagogues Inspired Their Followers
Brandon Lee
Radical Idealism: Jesus and the Radical Tradition
Kim C. Domenico
An Anarchist Uprising Against the Liberal Ego
Elliot Sperber
Pythagoras in Queens
November 14, 2018
Charles Pierson
Unstoppable: The Keystone XL Oil Pipeline and NAFTA
Sam Bahour
Israel’s Mockery of Security: 101 Actions Israel Could Take
Cesar Chelala
How a Bad Environment Impacts Children’s Health
George Ochenski
What Tester’s Win Means
Louisa Willcox
Saving Romania’s Brown Bears, Sharing Lessons About Coxistence, Conservation
George Wuerthner
Alternatives to Wilderness?
Robert Fisk
Izzeldin Abuelaish’s Three Daughters were Killed in Gaza, But He Still Clings to Hope for the Middle East
Dennis Morgan
For What?
Dana E. Abizaid
The Government is Our Teacher
Bill Martin
The Trump Experiment: Liberals and Leftists Unhinged and Around the Bend
Rivera Sun
After the Vote: An Essay of the Man from the North
Jamie McConnell
Allowing Asbestos to Continue Killing
Thomas Knapp
Talkin’ Jim Acosta Hard Pass Blues: Is White House Press Access a Constitutional Right?
Bill Glahn
Snow Day
November 13, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
The Midterm Results are Challenging Racism in America in Unexpected Ways
Victor Grossman
Germany on a Political Seesaw
Cillian Doyle
Fictitious Assets, Hidden Losses and the Collapse of MDM Bank
Lauren Smith
Amnesia and Impunity Reign: Wall Street Celebrates Halliburton’s 100th Anniversary
Joe Emersberger
Moreno’s Neoliberal Restoration Proceeds in Ecuador
Carol Dansereau
Climate and the Infernal Blue Wave: Straight Talk About Saving Humanity
Dave Lindorff
Hey Right Wingers! Signatures Change over Time
Dan Corjescu
Poetry and Barbarism: Adorno’s Challenge
Patrick Bond
Mining Conflicts Multiply, as Critics of ‘Extractivism’ Gather in Johannesburg
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail