FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

What’s Pelosi Afraid Of?

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

 

More articles by:

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

Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
Victor Grossman
Red Flowers for Rosa and Karl
Cesar Chelala
President Donald Trump’s “Magical Realism”
Christopher Brauchli
An Education in Fraud
Paul Bentley
The Death Penalty for Canada’s Foreign Policy?
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Not to Love NATO
Louis Proyect
Breaking the Left’s Gay Taboo
Kani Xulam
A Saudi Teen and Freedom’s Shining Moment
Ralph Nader
Bar Barr or Regret this Dictatorial Attorney General
Jessicah Pierre
A Dream Deferred: MLK’s Dream of Economic Justice is Far From Reality
Edward J. Martin
Glossip v. Gross, the Eighth Amendment and the Torture Court of the United States
Chuck Collins
Shutdown Expands the Ranks of the “Underwater Nation”
Paul Edwards
War Whores
Peter Crowley
Outsourcing Still Affects Us: This and AI Worker Displacement Need Not be Inevitable
Alycee Lane
Trump’s Federal Government Shutdown and Unpaid Dishwashers
Martha Rosenberg
New Questions About Ritual Slaughter as Belgium Bans the Practice
Wim Laven
The Annual Whitewashing of Martin Luther King Jr.
Nicky Reid
Panarchy as Full Spectrum Intersectionality
Jill Richardson
Hollywood’s Fat Shaming is Getting Old
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Wide Sphere of Influence Within Folklore and Social Practices
Richard Klin
Dial Israel: Amos Oz, 1939-2018
Graham Peebles
A Global Battle of Values and Ideals
David Rovics
Of Triggers and Bullets
David Yearsley
Bass on Top: the Genius of Paul Chambers
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail