Last week, Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) tried to reopen the agency with minimal funding.
The legislation—a proposed amendment to the Legislative Branch Appropriations Act that would have provided $2.5 million for the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) —was defeated in the House by a 248-164 vote, with 217 Republicans opposing and 155 Democrats supporting.
It's amazing that $2.5 million can't be spared for objective science advice - by a government. The NIH alone spends a thousand times that amount each year. In the absence of a strong pro-science lobby group, similar to what Franklin's List is trying to become, an OTA is a much needed government service.
Maybe the OTA was disbanded because it didn't offer good value for money. If only the benefits of something as intangible as science could be accounted for:
OTA had always saved taxpayers far more money than it cost. An OTA study on Agent Orange, for instance, helped save the government $10 million. Another report recommended changes in computer systems at the Social Security Administration that saved more than $350 million.
OK, maybe they can. All governments should take notice.
The rationale for dissolving a office like the OTA was even more perplexing when you consider how Newt Gingrich suggested he could compensate for the lack of one:
"Gingrich's view was always, 'I'll set up one-on-one interactions between members of Congress and key members of the scientific community,'" recalls Bob Palmer, former Democratic staff director of the House Committee on Science. "Which I thought was completely bizarre. I mean, who comes up with these people, and who decides they're experts, and what member of Congress really wants to do that?"
That's a lot of running around chasing busy members of the scientific community. I'd say that would cost more than $2.5 million worth of politician's time alone, never mind the additional burden and cost of all the meetings stemming from that. If you don't pay for an office like the OTA, the costs are just spread around like a giant game of hide the umbrella. Either way, taxpayers pay.
Similar efforts to create a Parliamentary Science Officer in Canada have been set in motion by Kennedy Stewart, the MP for Burnaby-Douglas in BC. Bill C-558 is the one to keep an eye on.