Science and technology inform nearly every aspect of modern life, pioneering innovation, creating jobs, and often contributing substantially to improvements in quality of life for Americans. But the pace of development and the gravity of many of these technologies (nuclear weapons, nanotechnology, and the internet, to name a few), has left government scrambling to keep up with a host of scientific, social, and ethical implications.
Congress, especially, is confronted with an onslaught of complex science policy issues that the legislature is ill prepared to respond to. Although there is a plethora of information available, Congress lacks independent, authoritative, and scientifically defensible sources that are tuned to the needs of legislators and their constituents.
Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) has an answer to this conundrum. He wants to appropriate funds for a new Office of Technology Assessment (OTA).
The Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) was created in 1972 by the U.S. Congress to provide nonpartisan analyses of issues in science and technology that affected the nation. For 23 years, the OTA conducted studies that indicated the benefits and risks of new technologies, testified before various Congressional committees about eliminating technologies that weren’t scientifically sound, and presented policy options that accorded with independent science.
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It was one of the most well-respected, productive, and cost-efficient agencies in history, with a $22 million budget in 1995, a staff of less than 200, and some of the brightest minds in science and policy providing analyses on issues relating to climate change, health care policy, agricultural production, telecommunications, space policy, electronic surveillance, and national defense. The OTA enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress.
But in 1995, the OTA was de-funded through a round of budget cuts, the chief architect of which was current Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich.
The loss of the agency has paved the way for politicized sources like lobbyists and trade associations to promote scientific findings that benefit industry bottom-lines. The hard work of discerning sound science from partisanship is left up to Congress members themselves, only 2 percent of whom have a professional background in science.
In the last few years, Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) has introduced several pieces of legislation that would recreate the OTA. His latest effort at an amendment, in 2011, would have provided a mere 2.5 million to re-introduce the OTA, and its valuable services, to the U.S. Congress. The amendment was defeated in a House floor vote, 175-235.
Sign your name above to support Rep. Holt’s ongoing efforts to bring back the Office of Technology Assessment. Congress needs the ability to discern independent science from corporate lobbying!
To read more about the Office of Technology Assessment, click here.
For the complete archive of OTA reports, click here.