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Ralph Nader and Colleagues Call on Nancy Pelosi to Revive Office of Technology Assessment

Ralph Nader and four colleagues – Bruce Fein, Claire Nader, Louis Fisher and Joan Claybrook – are calling on the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to revive the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA). 

In an open letter to Pelosi, Nader and his colleagues urged Pelosi to bypass the Senate and create the new OTA as an arm of the House of Representatives.

“You now can move toward action-driven enlightenment despite the Republican control of the Senate,” they wrote. “For your House majority can create a unicameral OTA and fund it without the affirmation of the Senate majority wallowing in its Dark Ages. The House OTA can be reconstituted functionally as an arm of the House independent of the Senate. Acting on behalf of the House alone, you cannot be blocked by the Senate as you were in 2019 when the House included $6 million for the bicameral OTA in its House-passed version of the Legislative Branch Appropriations Act, 2020 (H.R. 277). As a matter of law, 31 U.S.C. 1105, 1107, and custom, neither the Senate nor the President can interfere with the budget proposed by the House for itself, including the funding of House Committees or House Offices.”

“A critical arm and intellectual infrastructure of Congress – the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) – has been defunded since Speaker Newt Gingrich ordered such, after he toppled the complacent Democrats in November 1994,” they wrote. “This left Congress without sound independent advice by some 140 scientists and technologists on a long list of decisions by the Congress to oversee, stop, reduce, or start funding for scientific and technological programs.”

“Not until 2009-2010, when the Democrats regained control of both Houses, did a broad coalition of scientists, civic advocates, and members of the Congress, led by Democratic Representative Rush Holt (a former Princeton University scientist), urge you as Speaker to revive the OTA.” 

“A distinguished number of Nobel laureates, former staff and officials of the OTA, and your Democratic colleagues, sought hearings backed by an impressively documented case for refunding. To no avail. You then opposed public hearings and apparently told aides that you did not want to give the Republicans an opportunity to accuse Democrats of creating another bureaucracy on Capitol Hill. The OTA’s budget was a parsimonious $21 million in its last year. A bureaucratic OTA is a figment of fevered Republican imagination. It is very alarming that the damage Gingrich did in lobotomizing Congress continues after him. The number of expert congressional overseers has been slashed beyond the bare bones, while the massive Executive Branch to be overseen has grown topsy-turvy and for the worst.”

“So, another decade was lost. Another vacuum of credible advice by Congress’s own OTA – as has occurred to a lesser extent with the diminished Government Accountability Office and Congressional Research Service – enveloped sectors and issues such as artificial intelligence, systemic invasions of privacy, boondoggle, huge ballistic missile defense and nuclear upgrade expenditures, climate disruption, Boeing 737 Max, genetic engineering, citizen surveillance technology, autonomous vehicles, nanotechnology, Covid-19, fracking, computer procurement waste, atomic energy, renewable energy, health care, medical devices, pharmaceuticals, food additives, catastrophic environmental disasters, such as the BP oil spill, occupational safety, the controlling power of corporate algorithms, consumer product hazards, and more.”

“What filled this vacuum was corporate-driven pseudoscience – see former OSHA director David Michaels’ new book, The Triumph of Doubt: Dark Money and the Science of Deception – which twisted and tortured legislation and appropriations. Business lobbyists thwarted oversight while the number and experience of congressional staff overseers shrank. This is a serious situation now under your watch.”

“There followed an open sesame for unscrupulous corporations that arrested prudent ways to avert trillions of dollars in waste, perils to the American people and other peoples abroad, inverted perverse priorities, and resulted in bad, dangerous decisions that have ramifications to this day.”

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