Science and Technology Advice for Congress

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Resources for the Future, 2003 - Business & Economics - 236 pages
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The elimination of the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) in 1995 came during a storm of budget cutting and partisan conflict. Operationally, it left Congress without an institutional arrangement to bring expert scientific and technological advice into the process of legislative decisionmaking. This deficiency has become increasingly critical, as more and more of the decisions faced by Congress and society require judgments based on highly specialized technical information. Offering perspectives from scholars and scientists with diverse academic backgrounds and extensive experience within the policy process, Science and Technology Advice for Congress breaks from the politics of the OTA and its contentious aftermath. Granger Morgan and Jon Peha begin with an overview of the use of technical information in framing policy issues, crafting legislation, and the overall process of governing. They note how, as nonexperts, legislators must make decisions in the face of scientific uncertainty and competing scientific claims from stakeholders. The contributors continue with a discussion of why OTA was created. They draw lessons from OTA's demise, and compare the use of science and technological information in Europe with the United States. The second part of the book responds to requests from congressional leaders for practical solutions. Among the options discussed are expanded functions within existing agencies such as the General Accounting or Congressional Budget Offices; an independent, NGO- administrated analysis group; and a dedicated successor to OTA within Congress. The models emphasize flexibility--and the need to make political feasibility a core component of design.

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Books by RFF have nearly always, in my experience, tried to go beyond stereotyped controversies, political polarization, and (less successfully) academic specialization and disciplinary preoccupations in their exploration of governmental operations. RFF wants to make a difference.
The most scholarly rightwing prober of environmentalist activism, Ron Paul, has listed RFF as part of the activist environmental organization cabal. I think that's inaccurate. Sure, it shares some ground with the environmental movement - as many reasonable people, myself included (I hope) do, but its thoughtful probing for more understanding and better methods has little to do with radical zeal of any stripe. RFF's cap and trade concept decades ago was one of the truly innovative tools for making otherwise crude and potentially damaging regulation more efficient and responsive to the complexities of the market.
OK, let me now admit, I haven't read the above book! I found it through searching for specific science policy problems and have now ordered a used copy through Amazon! (another brilliant and indispensable innovation that with one stroke increased the accessibility of insights from scholarly books tenfold or more).
The introduction says that the book was born out of the turbulent activities in Congress in the mid 1990s,when a legitimate movement seeking reform of government went off the rails and - for what appears I have read was short range partisan pique, Newt Gingrich terminated the Office of Technology Assessment, a valuable source of information and insight into governmental technology agencies and issues associated with technology.
The authors of chapters of the book are looking, in part, to see what can be done to replace OTA's critical services (why not simply restore it?) and otherwise to examine the flow of scientific information and advice to Congress. Readers: if you get this far and actually loan or buy the book - why not finish out my review with your assessment of how valuable the contents are?


Analysis Governance and the Need for Better Institutional
Past Trends and Present
The Origins Accomplishments and Demise of the Office
Insights from the Office of Technology Assessment
The European Experience
Thinking about Alternative Models
Expanded Use of the National Academies
Expanding the Role of the Congressional Science
A Dedicated Organization in Congress
An Independent Analysis Group That Works Exclusively
Where Do We Go from Here?
The Technology Assessment Act of 1972
Details on the National Academies Complex
An External Evaluation of the GAOs First Pilot

A Lean Distributed Organization To Serve Congress

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About the author (2003)

M. Granger Morgan is professor and head of the Department of Engineering and Public Policy, Lord Chair Professor in Engineering, professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and professor in the H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management at Carnegie Mellon University.