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Scientists Want More Scientific Integrity in Congress

February 25, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Frustrated by the all-powerful influence of corporations and special interests in congressional decision making? Do you wish more federal policy was guided by science and objective research?

Matthew Madia of OMB Watch reports on a new push among scientists to restore funding for the Office of Technology Assessment, which, until it was defunded by Newt Gingrich in 1995, “provided Congressional members and committees with objective and authoritative analysis of the complex scientific and technical issues.”

[Yesterday] morning, the House subcommittee in charge of Legislative Branch spending held a public hearing to discuss the FY 2011 budget, scheduled to begin Oct. 1, 2010. Restoring funding for the OTA was one of several issues on the docket.

Dr. Francesca Grifo, Senior Scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, argued that Congress, and by extension the public, needs the OTA:

Members of Congress certainly do not lack for input, but in many situations they do lack credible and nonpartisan information that is structured in a way they can easily use. OTA was uniquely structured to provide credible information in the following areas:

  • Unnecessary expenditure of taxpayer money on unproven technologies or other policies that are scientifically indefensible
  • Early identification and analysis of technological issues before they became national Crises
  • Evaluation of Executive Branch science and technology initiatives to aid Congress in its oversight duties.

While the analysis produced by OTA did not always drive congressional decision making, it did set boundaries to the debate, rule out some scientifically incorrect arguments, and help to frame political decisions in technically defensible ways.

By federal government standards, OTA doesn’t need a lot of money to get rolling. In FY 1995, its last full year of operation, OTA’s budget was $21 million. The office had a staff of 183.

The push is coming from the Union of Concerned Scientists. So far, there has been no legislative action on the issue.

Here’s a cool video about the OTA from the late ’80s. You can see some of their reports to Congress form that time, including “Preparing for an Uncertain Climate, Vol. 1” and “Health Care Reform.”

<embed id=VideoPlayback src=http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docid=1016719314316313053&hl=en&fs=true style=width:400px;height:326px allowFullScreen=true allowScriptAccess=always type=application/x-shockwave-flash>

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