Back in 1995, Newt Gingrich defunded the Office of Technology Assessment, a low-cost, high-yield body that provided neutral, evidence-based assessments of technology to lawmakers so they could avoid making stupid blunders when it came to tech.
The OTA needs a $6m appropriate to get running again. For perspective, each one of Trump's golf holidays at Mar-a-Lago cost the taxpayers $3.4m, so for the cost of less than two of Trump's fun weekend breaks, we could inform the entirety of Congress and the Senate about the technical dimensions of their policy choices, at a moment in which the technical details have never mattered more than they do now.
A vast coalition of bipartisan and neutral groups have penned an open letter to the Senate asking it to appropriate $6m to reopen the OTA, joined by a long list of tech luminaries, executives, academics, veterans of former administrations, etc.
As Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has pointed out, lawmakers are shockingly ill-informed on the issues that they vote upon, largely because they pay sub-starvation wages to their staffers, requiring each to take on second and third jobs, leaving them without the time to research and prepare lawmakers ahead of key hearings and debates.
This vacuum has (of course) largely been filled by industry lobbyists who brief lawmakers with stilted accounts of the world (though AOC's answer, paying a living wage to every staffer, is obviously superior). Re-established the OTA would go a long way to filling in some of the gaps with neutral facts instead of parochial propaganda, and at $6m/year, it's a fucking steal.
On behalf of the undersigned organizations and individuals, we write to express our concern that Congress does not have sufficient capacity to tackle 21st century science and technology policy challenges. Accordingly, we urge you to prioritize efforts to augment this institutional capacity, including providing funding for the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), as part of the fiscal year 2020 Legislative Branch Appropriations bill.
The Senate has played a leading institutional role in promoting science and technology capacity in Congress. We note with favor the recently created Science, Technology Assessment and Analytics (STAA) team inside the Government Accountability Office, and its expanding capabilities to serve Members of Congress with expert advice and analysis. We also look forward to the forthcoming report from the National Academy of Public Administration later this year.
But OTA and STAA have different comparative advantages: the former in foresight and emerging technologies, and the latter in oversight and evaluating federal government programs and expenditures. Congress must have both these capabilities to meet the ever-increasing demands on its oversight and legislative responsibilities.
Broad Coalition Tells Congress To Bring Back The Office Of Technology Assessment [Mike Masnick/Techdirt]
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