By Francesca T. Grifo, Ph.D.
Director, Scientific Integrity Program
Union of Concerned Scientists
For 23 years, the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) served as Congress’s “on-call” source for trustworthy scientific and technological information. OTA authored over 700 reports on issues from Alzheimer’s disease to acid rain, including groundbreaking research on biodiversity and invasive species.
In 1995 the OTA closed its doors, the victim of budget cuts that saved the federal government a little more than $20 million annually. Since it was defunded, Congress has permitted billions of dollars to be spent on technology from “virtual” border fences to combat ships that are over budget and do not work as promised. The money OTA saved taxpayers was many times over what it cost to operate.
OTA—while designed to serve the needs of Congress—in reality served the needs of our nation. The U.S. is facing increasingly complex challenges. We at the Union of Concerned Scientists believe that it is time to take the first steps to re-start OTA to address the pressing needs of the 21st Century. An OTA today could for example assess climate change adaptation technologies or examine the criteria for determining jeopardy.
Last week, I testified at a hearing to tell Congress that OTA represents a small investment with a guaranteed payoff: less government waste and a more responsible Congress. 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 and help Congress understand the risks and implications of policy options.
The OTA authorizing legislation is still on the books, it simply needs funding to re-open its doors. Many believe that only grassroots support will bring it back, so we’re seeking the support of scientists and non-scientists as well as nonprofit organizations. To read my testimony, and to learn more about how you can help restore the OTA, visit www.ucsusa.org/ota.