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.

 

 

More articles by:

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

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
July 21, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Cesar Chelala
Dr. Schweitzer’s Lost Message
Masturah Alatas
Becoming Italian
Charles R. Larson
Review: James Q. Whitman’s “Hitler’s American Model”
July 20, 2017
Sebastian Friedrich – Gabriel Kuhn
A New Class Politics
Patrick Cockburn
The Massacre of Mosul: More Than 40,000 Civilians Feared Dead
Paul Street
The Abandonment: Reflections on James Foreman’s “Locking Up Our Own”
Kim Codella
A Practical Education
Frank Scott
America’s Trump, Not Trump’s America
Louis Proyect
Clancy Sigal Goes Away
Don Monkerud
The Real Treason in DC: Turning Our Lives Over to Corporations
Brian Dew – Dean Baker
Are Amazon’s Shareholders Suckers?
Ralph Nader
Detecting What Unravels Our Society – Bottom-up and Top-down
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Covering Islam, Post-Jack Shaheen
Binoy Kampmark
Uhlmann’s Trump Problem
Patrick Walker
In Defense of Caitlin Johnstone
Barry Lando
Those Secret Putin-Trump Talks
Sean Marquis
Thank You, Donald Trump
July 19, 2017
Adam Ziemkowski and Rebekah Liebermann
How Seattle Voted to Tax the Rich
Patrick Cockburn
Why ISIS Fighters are Being Thrown Off Buildings in Mosul
John W. Whitehead
Zombies R Us: the Walking Dead of the American Police State
Mateo Pimentel
Net Neutrality’s Missing Persons
Adil E. Shamoo - Bonnie Bricker
Yemen Policy is Creating More Terrorists
L. Ali Khan
U.S. Misreads Pakistan’s Antifragility
David Macaray
Fear and Trembling in the Workplace
Brian Trautman, Gerry Condon and Samantha Ferguson
Veterans Call on U.S. to Sign Nuclear Ban Treaty
Binoy Kampmark
Militarising Civilian Life: Australia, Policing and Terrorism
Ricardo Vaz
Venezuelan Opposition “Consultation”: Playing Alone and Losing
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s Cold-Hearted Agenda is Immoral
Raul Castro
We will Continue to Advance Along the Path Freely Chosen by Our People
July 18, 2017
James Bovard
Obama’s AWOL Anti-War Protesters
Gary Leupp
CNN: “Russia is an Adversary, Ukraine is Not.”
Ryan Shah
Beware the Radical Center
John Carroll Md
Cold Hands Don’t Need Narcotics
Derrick Jensen
Endangered Species Don’t Need an Ark – They Need a Living Planet!
Kenneth Surin
Brief Impressions of the Canadian Conjucture
Arturo Lopez-Levy
Trump’s Cuba Restrictions: a Detour, Not the Future
Russell Mokhiber
State Street Bentley University Business Ethics and Corporate Crime
Laura Finley
Being Too Much
Robert J. Gould
What is Our Experience of our Flawed Democracy?
Taju Tijani
The Burden of Indivisible Nigeria
Guillaume Pitron
China Now Leads in Renewables
Ted Rall
How I Learned Courts are Off-Limits to the 99 Percent
Binoy Kampmark
Militarising Civilian Life: Australia, Policing and Terrorism
July 17, 2017
Gregory Wilpert
Time for the “International Left” to Take a Stand on Venezuela
Gary Leupp
Trump’s Embrace of the Saudi Crown Prince, and a Qatar Nightmare Scenario
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail