4.29.2009

Rush is right (not that Rush): Re-create the OTA

New Jersey Congressman Rush Holt offers his informed comment (he holds a PhD in physics) in a Wired Op-Ed. He argues that the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) must be restarted (more on this angle here). The OTA was established in 1972 to provide “unbiased information concerning the physical, biological, economic, social, and political effects” of new and advancing technologies. But in 1994, the new Republican Congress voted not to fund it for the following fiscal year (presumably because it symbolized potential governmental regulation), and the office disappeared. But this poses a significant problem, argues Holt:
"While members of Congress do not suffer from a lack of information, we lack time and resources to assess the validity, credibility, and usefulness of the large amount of scientific information and advice we receive as it affects actual policy decisions. The purpose of the OTA was to assist members of Congress in this task. It both provided an important long-term perspective and alerted Congress to scientific and technological components of policy that might not be obvious."

Further, he argues, we are feeling the widespread effects of Congress's scientific knowledge void today. A pressing example is the economy:
"The additional information that could have been gathered since the 1995 report “Innovation and Commercialization of Emerging Technologies” might have helped guide Congress more effectively through our current economic crisis."

It seems to me the removal of the OTA was tragic, and its re-establishment is not only pragmatic, it is plain common sense.

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