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US House votes to stop resurrection of Office of Technology Assessment

updated 11:30 am EDT, Tue May 6, 2014

Bi-partisan group gave advice on technology, science developments

At the end of last week, the US House voted on a bill to restore the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), an office of the United States Congress to provide Congressional members and committees with objective and authoritative analysis of the complex scientific and technical issues. It was struck down by a majority of 248 to 164, with 78 percent of Democrats voting to reinstate the department. Republicans led the charge to defeat the proposal, with 94 percent voting to not restore the group.

The vote would amend HR 4487, a bill to fund the House Historic Buildings Revitalization Trust Fund. The group's funding was revenue-neutral, taking funding from the trust fund to pay what fees the OTA would incur. Among the topics that the new group would help Congress evaluate would be the ongoing technology patent wars and the potential adverse affects to industry, the Comcast and Time Warner Cable merger, as well as other burgeoning technologies needing discussion by congress such as BitCoin, wireless communication, and other Internet issues.

The OTA was governed by a 12-member board, comprising six members of Congress from each party, half from the Senate and half from the House of Representatives. During its twenty-four-year life, it produced about 750 studies on a wide range of topics, including acid rain, health care, global climate change, and polygraphs. The OTA was struck down in 1995 in an effort driven by Newt Gingrich.

Upon its initial dissolution in 1995, Republican representative Amo Houghton railed at the vote, saying that "we are cutting off one of the most important arms of Congress when we cut off unbiased knowledge about science and technology." Candidate Hilary Clinton proposed re-establishment of the group, should she have been elected president in 2008, though funding of the office is always controlled by Congress rather than the president.

Astronomer Carl Sagan spoke vehemently about the defunding of the group just before his death, saying "there's not more than a handful of those in Congress with any kind of background in science at all" and noted that the congressional response to the group's absence was "we don't want to know, don't tell us about science and technology." Without the group's advice, Sagan believed that decisions about advanced technology would grow worse and worse over time.




By Electronista Staff
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  1. sunman42

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 11-09-11

    This is so sad it makes we want to weep. In addition to its absolutely essential function in keeping the US Congress informed with impartial information on science and technology, the OTA, through its employees, did a great job of helping individual scientists visiting Washington to speak with their elected representatives about technical issues understand the legislative process --- both invaluable uses of the taxpayers' money. And the Reagan Administration did the agency in precisely because they didn't want facts interfering with politics.

    I'm sorry to inject politics into this site, but this has been the Republican agenda for the last thirty years, and I just don't get it. It's a disservice to the people paying their salaries, if not the special interests paying for their campaigns (and their opponents').

  1. sibeale1

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 02-23-06

    Who needs facts when the deciding factor in any House vote is whether Democrats support it?

  1. Inkling

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: 07-25-06

    Those who want more funding for science must deal with the fact that our federal government is spending about $1.40 for each $1.00 it takes in. Faced with a very real choice between sticking the next generation with servicing huge deficits and expecting scientist to fund their own work (like I fund my writing), I'll opt for the latter. By way the way, in his final address to the nation, President Eisenhower warned of precisely what we see here, a scientific community politicized by who feeds them grants.

  1. Flying Meat

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: 01-25-07

    Inkling, are you suggesting a scientific community would not be politicized by independent funding?
    That aside, where do you think congress gets their technical information from? The question is not whether the bill funds scientific research, but whether there is an internal government source for technical information.
    "the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), an office of the United States Congress to provide Congressional members and committees with objective and authoritative analysis of the complex scientific and technical issues of the day."

    Is there such a mechanism for congress? Is one needed? It's a simple enough question. The article also mentions it has no negative impact on the current budget. Weigh it.

  1. hayesk

    Professional Poster

    Joined: 09-17-99

    Inkling, if you are worried about the federal government spending too much, then cut funding to defense. Science funding is but a drop in the bucket compared to defense.

  1. Makosuke

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 08-06-01

    Now that is just sad. If *anybody* in this country needs a clear, unbiased source for scientific information, it's Congress. The amount of misinformation the government is stewing in is terrifying, and that it would willingly avoid a chance to add clarity is somewhere between hilarious and tragic.

    @Inkling: If you think that the reason for the entirety of Congress to not have a small office devoted to providing them with understandable and unbiased science is that the federal government runs at a deficit, then how is this a problem?

    "The group's funding was revenue neutral, taking funding from the [House Historic Buildings Revitalization Trust Fund] to pay what fees the OTA would incur."

    So it was going to effectively cost nothing. I suppose they could take the same amount of money from the House Historic Buildings Revitalization Trust Fund to pay for a couple of missiles for the Pentagon, but I doubt that's going to happen, and if it's composed of six members of each party and funded by Congress itself the only bias in their funding should be "from the government, who is asking them for objective information."

  1. Charles Martin

    MacNN Editor

    Joined: 08-04-01

    The "cost" of the OTA wouldn't have paid for a couple of DECALS on pentagon missiles, Inkling. Seriously misplaced priorities there ...

    At least we have the satisfaction of knowing that Carl Sagan was absolutely right in his predictions. Joe Barton (R-TX, naturally), who is on the committee to help decide the energy policy of the US said (direct quote): ""Wind is God's way of balancing heat. Wind is the way you shift heat from areas where it's hotter to areas where it's cooler. That's what wind is. Wouldn't it be ironic if in the interest of global warming we mandated massive switches to energy, which is a finite resource, which slows the winds down, which causes the temperature to go up?"

    With staggering scientific geniuses like that shaping the policies of the nation, of what use is the OTA? (headdesk)

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