FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

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! 

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
September 18, 2019
Kenneth Surin
An Excellent Study Of The Manufactured Labour “Antisemitism Crisis”
Patrick Cockburn
The Saudi Crown Prince Plans to Make Us Forget About the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi Before the US Election
W. T. Whitney
Political Struggle and Fixing Cuba’s Economy
Ron Jacobs
Support the Climate Strike, Not a Military Strike
John Kendall Hawkins
Slouching Toward “Bethlehem”
Ted Rall
Once Again in Afghanistan, the U.S. Proves It Can’t Be Trusted
William Astore
The Ultra-Costly, Underwhelming F-35 Fighter
Dave Lindorff
Why on Earth Would the US Go to War with Iran over an Attack on Saudi Oil Refineries?
Binoy Kampmark
Doctored Admissions: the University Admissions Scandal as a Global Problem
Jeremy Corbyn
Creating a Society of Hope and Inclusion: Speech to the TUC
Zhivko Illeieff
Why You Should Care About #ShutDownDC and the Global Climate Strike  
Catherine Tumber
Land Without Bread: the Green New Deal Forsakes America’s Countryside
Liam Kennedy
Boris Johnson: Elitist Defender of Britain’s Big Banks
September 17, 2019
Mario Barrera
The Southern Strategy and Donald Trump
Robert Jensen
The Danger of Inspiration in a Time of Ecological Crisis
Dean Baker
Health Care: Premiums and Taxes
Dave Lindorff
Recalling the Hundreds of Thousands of Civilian Victims of America’s Endless ‘War on Terror’
Binoy Kampmark
Oiling for War: The Houthi Attack on Abqaiq
Susie Day
You Say You Want a Revolution: a Prison Letter to Yoko Ono
Rich Gibson
Seize Solidarity House
Laura Flanders
From Voice of America to NPR: New CEO Lansing’s Glass House
Don Fitz
What is Energy Denial?
Dan Bacher
Governor Newsom Says He Will Veto Bill Blocking Trump Rollback of Endangered Fish Species Protections
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: Time to Stop Pretending and Start Over
W. Alejandro Sanchez
Inside the Syrian Peace Talks
Elliot Sperber
Mickey Mouse Networks
September 16, 2019
Sam Husseini
Biden Taking Iraq Lies to the Max
Paul Street
Joe Biden’s Answer to Slavery’s Legacy: Phonographs for the Poor
Paul Atwood
Why Mattis is No Hero
Jonathan Cook
Brexit Reveals Jeremy Corbyn to be the True Moderate
Jeff Mackler
Trump, Trade and China
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima’s Radioactive Water Crisis
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Democrats and the Climate Crisis
Michael Doliner
Hot Stuff on the Afghan Peace Deal Snafu
Nyla Ali Khan
Spectacles of the Demolition of the Babri Masjid in Uttar Pradesh and the Revocation of the Autonomous Status of Kashmir
Stansfield Smith
Celebrating 50 Years of Venceremos Brigade solidarity with the Cuban Revolution
Tim Butterworth
Socialism Made America Great
Nick Licata
Profiles in Courage: the Tories Have It, the Republicans Don’t
Abel Prieto
Cubanness and Cuban Identity: the Importance of Fernando Ortiz
Robert Koehler
Altruists of the World Unite!
Mel Gurtov
Farewell, John Bolton
Weekend Edition
September 13, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
The Age of Constitutional Coups
Rob Urie
Bernie Sanders and the Realignment of the American Left
Anthony DiMaggio
Teaching the “War on Terror”: Lessons for Contemporary Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: They Are the Walrus
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail