Third Party & Independents Archives

Time to Write A Gingrich Wrong

Few Americans have heard of the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment. It was created by Congress in 1972 and became the fourth congressional support agency. It was designed to provide the House and Senate with independent, nonpartisan and thorough analysis of complex technical issues and policy options for addressing them.

I was a proud member of the senior OTA staff for 12 years. In 1995 under pressure from the pompous and nefarious Newt Gingrich the small agency was de-funded. There is now bipartisan interest among some members of Congress in reinstituting OTA. And that is a wonderful idea that all those hoping to see improved congressional behavior and policymaking should support.

First, it is important to understand why conservatives wiped out OTA. It had a budget of only about $22 million out of roughly $2 billion in annual expenditures for all congressional activities. Obviously, it was not about a major budget cutting objective. What conservatives hated about OTA was its true independence from congressional manipulation. Even more than the General Accountability Office, the Congressional Budget Office, and the Congressional Research Service, whose budgets were cut, OTA was designed to seek all perspectives on difficult and contentious issues and all of its results were openly published, except for a very few works that involved secret military information. Members of congress might delay publication or put their own spin on OTA report findings, but they could not prevent release of OTA findings and reports.

What Congress received from OTA represented the best thinking not only of OTA’s own subject matter experts that included many experienced Ph.D.s, but also the full range of experts in universities, think tanks, government and industry. Moreover, OTA staff routinely provided members and their staffs with fast turn-around technical assistance. We were like adjunct staff to members. Like others, I helped members design hearings on technical subjects, respond to their constituents for technical help, draft legislation, and testified about 50 times before Senate and House hearings in D.C. and in field hearings. A balanced, bipartisan board of Senators and Representatives provided oversight of OTA.

The army of industry lobbyists also had access to OTA staff and provided inputs. But conservatives wanted more. Gingrich wanted to silence this marvelous independent voice about all things scientific and technological. He wanted to create even more opportunities for special interest, bought-and-paid-for lobbyists to steer congressional thinking, oversight and legislation.

For first hand understanding of what OTA did, you can access its reports at www.wws.princeton.edu/~ota/. With a staff of just 200, two-thirds of which were professional research staff, it produced over 750 reports in its 23 years of existence. The scope and breadth of OTA’s work was mind-boggling, and the remaining congressional support agencies have not replicated the depth of its work and the outreach of its staff.

How amazing that at a time in history when government policy has had to address more and more terribly sophisticated and contentious technical issues, Congress lost this precious national resource. And make no mistake about OTA’s very positive impacts. Its work guided legislation, improved congressional oversight of agency activities, and helped reduce wasteful federal spending. Just as important, OTA informed Congress about issues likely to become important in the future so members could anticipate and act proactively.

Ironically, many nations sent people to visit and examine OTA and then established their own versions of this unique technology assessment agency that they still rely on. The abolishment of OTA by Gingrich was viewed with amazement and chagrin worldwide.

Please write you Senators and Representatives in support of providing new funding for OTA that still legally exists on paper at least. Yes, there is too much wasteful federal spending. But OTA is a compelling case; the public would benefit enormously by the relatively small funding for OTA. The shame of conservative Republicans has been exposed in recent times because of their corrupt activities and reckless pro-industry spending. This should help people understand why Gingrich got rid of OTA. Now is the time to tell Congress to reinstitute OTA. OTA stood for truth and integrity, for good science and good thinking, for consideration of all relevant policy options, free from partisan biases. Members of Congress need such input. They need help in overseeing the many federal agencies that spend vast sums on scientific and technological projects. The President receives technical advice through the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy as well as from countless federal agencies, and Congress requires its own source.

Clearly, Gingrich wanted to eliminate good science and objective thinking from policymaking and George W. Bush has carried on that mindset. Worse, he has taken it to new outrageous levels by purposefully distorting and manipulating scientific information from federal employees. Enough is enough.

Spend a few minutes looking into OTA and then write the wrong by telling your Senators and Representatives that you want OTA re-established. Bringing back OTA would demonstrate the integrity of the Democrats now running Congress. OTA was a very brainy outfit, and today restoring it is a true no-brainer.

Posted by Joel S. Hirschhorn at April 11, 2007 2:18 PM
Comments
Comment #216084

What support another bueractcy and waste more tax dollars? Does the waste ever end?

Posted by: Ron Brown at April 11, 2007 4:22 PM
Comment #216087

Joel
I agree with Ron. We don’t need to be adding more to the pile until its under control.
If anything, we need to be cutting more.

Posted by: kctim at April 11, 2007 4:30 PM
Comment #216094

Joel and kctim,

That’s a nice knee-jerk reaction, but isn’t it possible that the OTA actually provided a worthwhile service to Congress that is now lacking? Just because government has a tendency toward inefficiency doesn’t mean that it can’t do anything efficiently.

Since Joel has made a decent argument for the necessity of some agency to provide this service and since the private sector hasn’t picked up the slack (and may not be able to, considering we would prefer a non-biased agency), shouldn’t we work to reinstate something that’s worthwhile?

Just wondering…

Posted by: LXIX at April 11, 2007 5:23 PM
Comment #216095

LX
Knee-jerk reaction? Its the only reaction that makes sense if somebody is serious about getting rid of our massive debt.
Neither comment said anything bad about the OTA or Joels suggestion.
Hell, considering what our govt funds, it probably wouldn’t be a big deal if we could afford it. But we can’t.

Posted by: kctim at April 11, 2007 5:40 PM
Comment #216096

LXIX,

Once something is funded by the government it no longer can be considered ‘non-biased’, political forces will make sure that whoever is controlling the pursestrings will put some sort of bias on any endeavor.

The budget was small, but what would you propose to cut in order to pay for the agency? I daresay that every time any congress has suggested cutting any program, those program supporters will do everything in their power to keep that project alive. In the end, hardly anything, at all, ever gets cuts from our overbloated and overreaching government.

If you want the american people to support such an agency, make sure that the budget is balanced and the debt is paid for first. It’s sort of like deciding to buy a new tv, which may be a modest cost, when you have 4 credit cards with 22%+ interest on them that you should be paying down first. Yeah, I’d love to have that TV, but how much is it costing me by not paying off the high interest debt first?

Posted by: Rhinehold at April 11, 2007 5:46 PM
Comment #216098

Rhinehold, your response is too simplistic. The reality is that while/if we cut spending and start paying down the debt, our nation’s and her people’s needs will continue to shift necessitating reapportionment of where spending goes.

This is not a static society we live in, nor world. To rule out ANY new spending UNTIL the debt is paid off is incredibly naive and highly impracticable and could even be dangerous.

Posted by: David R. Remer at April 11, 2007 6:00 PM
Comment #216103

David,

I’m not sure I suggested that, in the case of the example I presented you are still going to need to pay for food and necessities while you are working to pay down that debt. It is the unnecessary spending that must be stopped in order for you to get a hold of runaway debt and the interest that it generates or it will consume all of your finances leaving you unable to pay even that.

In the case that Joel is presenting, unless the agency is something we can’t live without or can’t replicate in the private sector (a thinktank using donations comes to mind) then how can we seriously think we can afford that new TV we’re looking at?

Posted by: Rhinehold at April 11, 2007 6:22 PM
Comment #216113

Joel,

I think you have a very valid point. The OTA had slipped by me, either that or it’s slipped from my memory.

I’d hope that everyone actually takes time to read about OTA’s history:

http://www.wws.princeton.edu/ota/

I especially hope that everyone will look at the list of projects they worked on the last year of their existence:

http://www.wws.princeton.edu/ota/ns20/year_f.html

I’ve only browsed two of the publications so far but either could have easily ruffled some feathers; “Health Care Technology and Its Assessment in Eight Countries” or “Other Approaches to Civil-Military Integration: The Chinese and Japanese Arms Industries”.

What little I’ve read makes me think that the OTA is exactly what congress does need: a relatively unbiased analysis as opposed to the “group-think” of such as PNAC, or the MIC, let alone a Medicare drug bill written by and for those who stand to benefit the most.

Posted by: KansasDem at April 11, 2007 7:41 PM
Comment #216114

I understand and agree with views about wasteful federal spending, but I had hoped for a more enlightened understanding of the role of a small agency like OTA; because of the way it was structured by statute there was no partisan control of what the professionals did or said; if you want more effective government, then you really need an OTA to give members of congress the best, most objective interpretations of science and technology - if only to counterbalance the awful, biased and destructive information reaching them from all special interests, both industry and nonprofits/public interest groups.. For god sakes, I would hope some people totally unfamiliar with OTA would take the time to look up some reports on topics of interest to you and see what really high quality professional policy analysis is all about.

Posted by: Joel S. Hirschhorn at April 11, 2007 7:44 PM
Comment #216118

Joel, It’s all in the presentation. If you would not have talk bad about the Newt you might have had a chance. The righties cannot accept the fact that not all things should be privatized, it rubs their preconceived notions the wrong way. Another problem with this idea is the fact that you mentioned OTA presents its findings in a relatively politically unbiased way, so the righties do not perceive that to be advantagous to their ideologies, only Faux is fair and balanced after all.

Posted by: j2t2 at April 11, 2007 8:42 PM
Comment #216128

David

I thought you were in favor of Paygo. My wife always wants to go on a budget to save money, but also finds good reason for every expenditure.

Posted by: Jack at April 11, 2007 9:55 PM
Comment #216134

Jack, new spending projects and PayGo are not incompatible. Think about it. New spending projects under PayGo require either increasing taxes to pay for them or cutting spending on other projects. There’s a lot of spending to be reallocated in that there Iraq War, for example.

Posted by: David R. Remer at April 11, 2007 10:53 PM
Comment #216135

Joel, your message is clear to those who wish to see clearly. There is nothing mysterious about spending money to save money. Businesses do it all the time. Invest in programs (additional cost) which curtail and reduce costs in other ways by more than the additional cost to set up the cost saving program. It is what productivity is largely about these days. Buy new machines which which overtime save more money that the human workers would have cost over that same period of time.

OTA has that capacity by insuring spending is targeted to non-politically spun projects with real merit for the nation and her people. More bang for the tax buck and less waste of tax bucks due to political programs that start and get trashed with each new shift in political party in power.

Posted by: David R. Remer at April 11, 2007 10:58 PM
Comment #216142

David, logical and sensible programs have no place in conservative political thought today. This adminmistration and its followers have spent years and billions to prove the federal government is ineffiecent and ineffective at the most simple of tasks. They have fought for decades now to prove that privitazation is the only way to run the government. To actually implement a proven program that would save money by allowing our representatives to make better policy decisions and to report in non partisian way on technical matters goes against all things conservative. Facts and knowledge are the enemy of the conservatives. A 25 million dollar OTA that could be outsourced to private think tanks that favor the political party in control for 35 million dollars would of course be the conservative answer to this issue.

Posted by: j2t2 at April 11, 2007 11:52 PM
Comment #216154

Hmmmmm m m m … you mean we don’t have that or something equivalent to it already somewhere within all of t_h_i_s?

I’m amazed. You sure it’s not in that list somewhere already?
It’s hard to tell.
WARNING: You may need a few weeks to look through the whole list.

But, then, the possibilities are infinite, and the government is exploring those infinities all the time, as they continue to grow the government ever larger; to nightmare proportions.

But, it seems to me that somewhere in the millions of people, offices, committees, departments, branches, coucils, agencies, programs, services, divisions, contractors, administrations, centers, initiatives, systems, sections, counsels, bureaus, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc.

For instance, there’s an Information Technology Division:

  • Applications and Information Management Branch

  • Customer Services Branch

  • Forecasting & Planning Services Branch

  • Forms, Issuances and Records Management

  • Technology Resources Management Branch
What do they do?

There’s the Office of Science and Technology Policy:

  • Director

  • Associate Director for Science

  • Associate Director for Technology

  • Executive Secretary for the National Science and Technology Council

  • Executive Director for the President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology

There’s the Technology Transfer program.

There’s the Information Technology Services (over and over and over in every service and agency).

There’s the Information Technology Division.

There’s the Technology Administration.

There’s the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics.

There’s the Office of Educational Technology.

It seems like redundancy piled upon redundancy piled upon redundancy:
Government’s layering of new programs on top of old ones inherently creates duplication.
The federal government has:

  • 342 economic development programs;

  • 130 programs serving the disabled;

  • 130 programs serving at-risk youth;

  • 72 federal programs dedicated to assuring safe water;

  • 50 homeless assistance programs;

  • 45 federal agencies conducting federal criminal investigations.
  • Seriously, I’m not opposed to anything that will add some independent input and transparency … that is … if smart advice REALLY comes out of such an Office.

    I guess that’s that part that’s hard to believe … smart advice ?
    But, what the hell? !
    It can’t get much worse, eh?
    At this point, anything might be worth a try.
    Especially in view of the numerous blunders by the current admininistration.

    Posted by: d.a.n at April 12, 2007 12:59 AM
    Comment #216181

    Joel,

    I, too, mourned when Gingrich abolished OTA. During all the hoopla surrounding the Republican victory in 1994 the move didn’t make it to the media radar screen. It was lost in all the noise about the “reforms” the GOP was going to make.

    While I never worked there, I read the work extensively. The OTA research has always been truly first rate. Not only was the work genuinely unbiased, it was so well written so that anyone could understand complex scientific issues and make informed decisions. My hats off you for your contribution.

    The type of psuedo-scientific nonsense that we have had to put up with since 1995 — “Intelligent Design” and the “debate” about climate change just to name two — could have been avoided if Congress had had access to independent scientific research.

    Unfortunately, every piece of evidence we get now is treated as tainted (rightly or wrongly) because of the source, whether it be university research (liberal bias in academia), industry (profit motive behind it), or interest groups.
    To hear kctim, Rhinehold, and Ron bitch about a $22 million agency that is designed to serve all political viewpoints when the Federal budget is $2 trillion is nonsense. By their logic, we should abolish the Congressional Reasearch Service, Library of Congress, and Congressional Budget Office as well. We need OTA back.

    Posted by: Steve K at April 12, 2007 9:58 AM
    Comment #216184

    Sure Steve. Whats another $22 million here and there. Might as well keep piling things on since its so high, huh.

    Just like the average Americans thinking, why should we wait until we can afford things? No need to cut spending and programs when we have such a massive debt, lets just add to that debt if its for a “good cause.”

    And its always comforting to see people like David, who preaches non-stop about our debt, how its destroying our nation and we should cut spending, (thanks for that David btw) suddenly have a different view when adding to that debt supports something they agree with.

    We cannot effectively reduce our debt until we agree to take it seriously.
    Trying to reduce it only when we do not agree with a particular program, will not work at this point in time.

    If you are one step from bankruptcy, you do not buy a 30 thousand dollar car which will save you gas money over the next 20 years to help your situation.
    You bear down and quit spending on EVERYTHING non-essential. If you cherry-pick, you get nowhere.

    We are beyond compromises.

    Posted by: kctim at April 12, 2007 10:25 AM
    Comment #216196
    What support another bueractcy and waste more tax dollars?

    Judging by this reaction and the 30% of Americans who still think Bush is doing a great job, there’s a solid block (like a brick, maybe) of people who prefer their government to be dumb, incompetent and ineffective.

    Posted by: American Pundit at April 12, 2007 11:20 AM
    Comment #216211

    kctim,
    What you fail to see is the great value of the service that OTA provided. If you stop looking at the dollar sign and look at the output from it, you might have a different opinion.

    The GOP Congress spent even more investigating Whitewater. Were you opposed to that wasteful expenditure as well?

    Posted by: Steve K at April 12, 2007 12:28 PM
    Comment #216215

    Thanks for the insight Joel. Smart people assessing complex issues sounds like a Republicans worst nightmare.

    Posted by: Schwamp at April 12, 2007 12:35 PM
    Comment #216217

    Steve K
    EVERY govt program has somebody who believes it is of great value. Where and when do we draw the line?
    IF we didn’t have such massive debt, then I could look at something other than the dollar signs. But, I seriously want to rid our country of this debt and the only way to effectively do that is by cutting spending and not starting new programs until we can pay for it.

    Whitewater was a totally different thing. It was an investigation to see if a crime was committed. Much like what the Dems are going to do with Bush in order to find anything possible to make the other side look worse.
    Am I oppossed to these investigations? No. But I am oppossed to how they pay for them. There has to be a more sensible way to keep the price in check and to pay for them, IMO.

    AP
    Any government that is not laced in liberalism is dumb, incompetent and ineffective to the left.
    And any government not laced in Conservatism is dumb, incompetent and ineffective to the right.
    Do we keep adding new programs that we agree with, which keeps adding to the debt? OR, do we get serious, quit creating more debt, make cuts and stop spending until we can afford it?

    To bad this wasn’t a program the Dem’s axed, we’d see a totally different attitude by you guys.

    Posted by: kctim at April 12, 2007 12:47 PM
    Comment #216227

    Joel:

    Very reasonable suggestion.

    Republicans, especially Bush Republicans, are against the idea. They are scared stiff of science. Global warming, for instance. Scientists say we must do something fast - now. (Some) Republicans say global warming is a hoax.

    We need OTA as a tool for Congress to fight those that want to substitute politics for science. We need OTA to restore some realism into the legislative process.

    Posted by: Paul Siegel at April 12, 2007 2:20 PM
    Comment #216241

    kctim,

    I just find it completely odd that you don’t even what to address the merits of the work that OTA does.

    Posted by: Steve k at April 12, 2007 4:35 PM
    Comment #216242

    Um, Ron Brown and kctim, if you’re worried about the debt, look at the burn rate over there in Eye-rack. Seems it might be best to start with that sink-hole.

    Posted by: mental wimp at April 12, 2007 4:37 PM
    Comment #216245

    Joel, terrific article. Like Kansas Dem said, I had almost forgotten about the OTA, even though they did exemplary and truly necessary work in the past. I agree that we need it, and should try to bring it back.

    Posted by: Adrienne at April 12, 2007 5:05 PM
    Comment #216246

    Steve K
    Discuss the merits then, I would probably agree with you on its work though. Heck, I may absolutely love the OTA and want it reinstated. But it doesn’t matter.
    I LOVE Porche 911’s, doesn’t mean I’m going to put myself into a hole and buy one though.

    Mental
    Um, ok. I’ve been saying that anyways.

    Posted by: kctim at April 12, 2007 5:08 PM
    Comment #216278

    As I said earlier, everyone should take the time to read thru OTA’s reports. What they provided was KNOWLEDGE! Without knowledge how do WE make decisions?

    Joel’s right! It’s time to restore unbiased research to our knowledge base. Without true and unbiased knowledge we’re doomed to fail. We don’t need a “drug czar” or a “war czar”! We need knowledge!

    We need unbiased truth.

    Posted by: KansasDem at April 12, 2007 9:20 PM
    Comment #216314
    Discuss the merits then, I would probably agree with you on its work though.

    So… it’s not a political issue, then? Or is it only a political issue when I chime in?

    Posted by: American Pundit at April 12, 2007 10:32 PM
    Comment #216374

    Its not a political issue at all to me, AP. You “chimed” in with a political statement and I gave one back.

    Posted by: kctim at April 13, 2007 9:14 AM
    Comment #216388

    kctim,
    Have you followed the link to the OTA reports? Have you read any of the reports? Can you identify a group that does work like that today? For me the answers are yes, yes, and no. Since no one conducts research like that now, that is why we need OTA back.

    Posted by: Steve k at April 13, 2007 11:14 AM
    Comment #216395

    Ok Steve. Its a good program, did good work and we don’t have one like it today. Joel made a very good case for it.

    But, the reality is that we cannot afford to keep adding to our debt if we are serious about helping our country and getting rid of it.

    I am for getting rid of our debt and am very serious about it. Apparently, others are not.
    I apologize for going in a different direction than Joel intended.

    Posted by: kctim at April 13, 2007 12:12 PM
    Comment #216397
    Its not a political issue at all to me, AP.

    The why did you say, “Any government that is not laced in liberalism is dumb, incompetent and ineffective to the left.”

    I never said anything about the OTA being laced in liberalism — or conservatism, for that matter. That was all you.

    So, first you say I favor an organization like the OTA because it’s liberal, then you say “Its not a political issue at all.”

    Which is it, kctim?

    Don’t worry about it, though. About 90% of your responses to my comments are knee-jerk partisan rhetoric — but I do treasure the other 10%. :)

    Posted by: American Pundit at April 13, 2007 12:13 PM
    Comment #216406

    kctim,
    Fine kctim. I suspect that Bush’s frequent trips to military bases in an effort to shore up support for the “surge” cost millions a year. He could do the same by just stepping in front of the cameras in the White House driveway. Let’s hear you argue that cost savings.

    Posted by: Steve K at April 13, 2007 12:53 PM
    Comment #216407

    Yeah AP, you added Bush to your comment for totally non-partisan reasons.
    You are right though, I did say the left would think adding to the debt is ok for liberal policies. Nice, but expected that you leave out that I said the same thing about the right.

    “Don’t worry about it, though. About 90% of your responses to my comments are knee-jerk partisan rhetoric”

    Ok, I will bore you all no more.

    Posted by: kctim at April 13, 2007 12:54 PM
    Comment #216435

    kctim,
    Are you claiming that OTA is about “liberal politics?”

    Posted by: Steve K at April 13, 2007 4:03 PM
    Comment #216445

    Sigh, no Steve.
    Go over our posts and you will see that I didn’t mention anything really political until AP compared those against spending more money as being the same as his 30% Bush supporters whom he thinks want a dumb govt.

    Now, sure I believe at least half the people don’t have a grasp on what the OTA did or could do and based their support or non-support of it on Newts name, but Joel didn’t go there IMO so neither did I at the start.

    Ron and myself clearly said our objections were based on not wanting to fund another govt program until our country could afford it.

    Posted by: kctim at April 13, 2007 4:49 PM
    Comment #216724

    The real problem is NOT that government is inherently wasteful or inefficient. Many government agencies are staffed by dedicated hard-working people and do a very good job. And many countries (not hijacked by right-wing corporatist interests) do have governments that have very little corruption and actually do work well for the public. Of course the public mantra of the past few decades has been that government can’t do anything right. Part of the reason why the GOP isn’t more concerned with Bush’s running the country in the ground and disasters with federal agencies like FEMA is they’re hoping people will think that, and moan about any government action (that works for the public) and thus trust private industry instead. When really they’re partially true. The government can’t do anything right…but only when run by Republicans.

    Posted by: john at April 15, 2007 7:48 PM
    Comment #218400

    If you want to blame conservatives exclusively, maybe you should ask yourself why the democratic congress has not addressed this? In fact, ask yourself why they have failed in all 6 of the first 100 days promises.
    Looks like they are too busy hitting republicans with a rolled up newspaper.

    Posted by: john at April 25, 2007 11:47 AM
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