Sunday, May 30, 2010

Time for OTA, by Ralph Nader

Published on Saturday, May 29, 2010 by CommonDreams.org

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....

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.

Read the entire post at Common Dreams.Org

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