Congress Has Voted Proactively To Remain Clueless About Technology

from the well-isn't-that-great... dept

The Office of Technology Assessment existed in Congress from 1972 until 1995, when it was defunded by the Newt Gingrich-led "Contract with America" team. The purpose was to actually spend time to analyze technology issues and provide Congress with objective analysis of the impact of technology and the policies that Congress was proposing. Remember how, back when there was the big SOPA debate and folks in Congress kept talking about how they weren't nerds and needed to hear from the nerds? Right: the OTA was supposed to be those nerds, but it hasn't existed in nearly two decades.

Rep. Rush Holt thought maybe it would be a good idea to change that, and proposed an amendment that would have allocated some funds to bring back the OTA. And Congress voted it down (164 - 248), because, really, who would want a more informed Congress concerning issues that deal with the underpinnings of economic growth and innovation?
It's a puzzling move given how often people comment on Congress's shortage of technical expertise — and it speaks to the way Congress view technical expertise as a luxury rather than a necessity. When they zeroed out the OTA's funding in 1995, Holt says, the new Republican majority "actually said Congress shouldn't have any special perks. As if having a congressional agency that provides advice is a perk."
The real problem is that Congress doesn't think it needs to pay for objective advice on tech issues, because it already gets subjective advice on tech issues from lobbyists.
The problem, Holt continues, isn't that Congress doesn't have access to technical advice. To the contrary, there's an endless parade of people wanting to advise Congress on technical issues. But much of the advice comes from lobbyists and other paid advocates who might not have the public's best interests at heart. A staff of in-house technical experts could help members of Congress distinguish good advice from advice that is merely self-serving.
Nice work, Congress. I'm guessing those against this can argue that they've "privatized" the technology advice they get, letting the market decide. Right?

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Matt (profile), May 5th, 2014 @ 9:09am

    Great idea if "objective" government agencies only ever provide objective data

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 5th, 2014 @ 9:10am

    The LAST thing the politicians in this country (or anywhere else, for that matter) want is an educated, free-thinking electorate. They don't want Congress to know anything that the paymasters haven't told them. They don't want the voters to know anything, either.

    Elections in this country are nothing more than a popularity contest where the winner in he/she who pays the most to get popular. That's the only explanation for reelecting people that are obviously unqualified for office, and continue to ignore their oaths.

     

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  3.  
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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), May 5th, 2014 @ 9:11am

    Because they don't have to pay the lobbyists to tell them how to vote, and technology issues aren't a problem until it happens to bother them.

    Anyone curious how much Congresscritter have to pay for their internet, cell phones, cable? I think it might help explain the bubble they operate inside of.

     

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  4.  
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    ikitelli nakliyat, May 5th, 2014 @ 9:12am

    ikitelli nakliyat

    Great idea if "objective" government agencies only ever provide objective data

     

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  5.  
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    Baron von Robber, May 5th, 2014 @ 9:15am

    "Much of the advice comes from lobbyists and other paid advocates who might not have the public's best interests at heart."

    That's like turning to a computer salesman to fix your computer. :(

     

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  6.  
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    Medical Quack, May 5th, 2014 @ 9:17am

    I have been on this for 3 years..

    I several blog posts on this topic and none other than Ted Cruz is who I have chosen as the poster child. It was John McCain until he was uprooted by Mr. Cruz.

    I can't figure out why these folks think they know it all and refuse something that would greatly increase their knowledge.

    http://ducknetweb.blogspot.com/2013/09/jon-stewart-discusses-little-paper.html

    The link above is just one of many I have written on the topic. I did though, during his fake filibuster get on the Twitter feed and tweeted intelligent items w/links and picked up about 3 more Congressman to follow me that day.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 5th, 2014 @ 9:18am

    Congress doesn't want OTA contradicting what their lobbyists are saying. How are they supposed to ram through bills at breakneck speed if inconvenient facts are being raised?

     

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  8.  
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    Vel the Enigmatic, May 5th, 2014 @ 9:18am

    Okay, time for a rant that would make Karkat proud.

    Are you guys in Congress freaking serious?! Are you really this moronic?! This decision is so numbingly dumb that I wonder if my thinkpan sprung a leak or ten while reading this article, if there is as much objective truth to this article as I believe: I would like to make it known that I now think that the lapdogs in our Congress are very much in need of the most odious, deliciously severely proverbial slut-shaming the universe has ever known! It's pretty freaking apparent they don't want to listen to anyone but the people who spoon feed them money after strapping them to an adult-sized baby-chair. Cause who wants to listen to people who don't feed us our morning legal tender-meal? Oh I dunno, maybe the people in Congress who have the slightest hint of a brain and good conscience!

    I can't even comprehend the utter imbecility of these people downvoting something that would actually HELP THEM understand the technological issues that they are having thrown at them and for good damn reason! Industry and their lobbyists are abusing our laws, our judicial system, and our political system to keep themselves on top, when it's about damn time they made some damn gangway for other, newer people who actually understand half a shit of what their doing! This is only the tip of my rage iceberg, but I'm going to cut this off here so I can go do something else rather than continue to waste my time ranting at people who can't even freaking hear me, let alone understand why I'm so ticked off about this! So as a parting shot:

    YOU LOSE! GOOD DAY SIRS!

     

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  9.  
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    cubicleslave (profile), May 5th, 2014 @ 9:22am

    What is really boggling is that the OTA was saving taxpayers money!

    "Holt's amendment would have allocated $2.5 million to re-start OTA.
    And Holt emphasizes that $2.5 million is a tiny amount of money compared to the amounts good technical advice can save taxpayers. For example, Holt notes that one OTA report recommending an overhaul of the Social Security Administration's computer system led to hundreds of millions of dollars in savings."

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 5th, 2014 @ 9:27am

    Response to: cubicleslave on May 5th, 2014 @ 9:22am

    And here is where the shortsightedness kicks in. Little understanding of how spending $1M now might save you $10M several years from now

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 5th, 2014 @ 9:28am

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Office_of_Technology_Assessment

    Duplication in government seems to happen a lot, would we be better off with a clearing house for these efforts?

    It also looks like all the people pushing to refund the OTA are progressives who wish to use it to steer their agenda.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 5th, 2014 @ 9:32am

    Can we take this as an admission that Congress does not want to work for the people?

     

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  13.  
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    Ima Fish (profile), May 5th, 2014 @ 9:32am

    It doesn't matter. Either the OTA would parrot what the lobbyists want Congress to hear or it would be objective and would be ignored by Congress in favor of what the lobbyists want.

     

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  14.  
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    Just Another Anonymous Troll, May 5th, 2014 @ 9:35am

    Re: Response to: cubicleslave on May 5th, 2014 @ 9:22am

    But spending that $1M now makes you look bad now, but nobody notices you not saving $10M. It doesn't matter how good you are for the country, just how you look to the voters!

    Is it bad if I can't tell if the other side would agree with the argument I use to mock them with like this?

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 5th, 2014 @ 9:41am

    Informed advice

    The only accurate information congress requires about technology is the number of zeros after the $ signs and before the decimal place. Be sure the advice is sufficient or it won't be heeded.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 5th, 2014 @ 9:43am

    Response to: Anonymous Coward on May 5th, 2014 @ 9:28am

    Because Newt was totally agenda free when he killed it off, right?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
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    compgeek (profile), May 5th, 2014 @ 9:46am

    Re:

    my thoughts exactly

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
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    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, May 5th, 2014 @ 9:49am

    Can you tell the difference?

    Here is a picture of 535 ostrich's with their heads in the sand.

    Here is a picture of congress.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
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    BentFranklin (profile), May 5th, 2014 @ 9:49am

    At least the good news is this is one more positive sign for Rush Holt. He is definitely on the right side of voting machine technology. I hope this fellow hangs in there.

     

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  20.  
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    Michael, May 5th, 2014 @ 9:50am

    This can't be true. I don't believe Congress has done anything proactive.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 5th, 2014 @ 9:58am

    Re: Okay, time for a rant that would make Karkat proud.

    Incorrect sir!

    They WIN!

    Who is getting spoon fed cash and whom is getting fed the rules?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
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    Ninja (profile), May 5th, 2014 @ 9:59am

    It's a serious issue when things get brushed off as "nerdy" as if it was a problem. The Congress should be as nerdy as they can to legislate on specific subjects. These same morons that legislate with their asses are the same that would freak out if somebody without specific degrees on whatever profession tried to say something on that subject. Yet they see no problem on legislating on things they don't have a clue about.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 5th, 2014 @ 10:36am

    Re:

    Everyone always has an agenda for anything. It is if that agenda serves the people over themselves that determines if it is a good a bad solution.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 5th, 2014 @ 11:14am

    Re: Re: Response to: cubicleslave on May 5th, 2014 @ 9:22am

    Welcome to policy in the media-era. Stories fade and budgets on unsexy upkeep is forgotten.

    Building a new bridge with an expected lifetime of 30 years is so much more publicity than extending the lifetime of the already existing to 60 years and saving billions in that way. It doesn't matter what side is suggesting it.

    The argument for/against objective information institutions and oversight in general are usually twosided: The public reason which is "pork" when against or "necessary oversight" when for. The unofficial where arguments against oversight/objective information are when lobbyists are aplenty (the value of extorting them on such an issue is good) and the argument for creating more economic incentive for companies to buy lobbyists (when lobbyism from the industry is scarce and you need more sources to extort).

    It is the political influence markets self-correction mechanism. It works as intended!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 5th, 2014 @ 11:25am

    It's not just tech that got axed by Newt 2 decades ago

    It's not just tech experts that got axed by Newt 2 decades ago. Experts on tons of other topics also lost their jobs, in the name of 'cost savings'.

    But the real reason Newt Gingrich and Republicans wanted to get rid of those experts is that many of them frequently found in their analysis that Republican policy wouldn't do what was promised.

    For example, economists and tax experts said that the GOP's tax cuts wouldn't bring in more tax revenue by stimulating the economy. Can't have experts in government saying your entire basis for a tax cut is wishful thinking that won't become reality.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 5th, 2014 @ 11:37am

    Re: Response to: cubicleslave on May 5th, 2014 @ 9:22am

    No, no, you don't understand. The $1 million goes into MY pocket, not some nebulous Government bureau.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 5th, 2014 @ 11:43am

    Re:

    I hate to bust your bubble, but our esteemed congresscritters HAVE NEVER worked for the "people". They have ALWAYS been supporting of and supported by corporations and special interest groups. You wanna real kick, go read some of the stories from the late 1700s and early 1800s. Nothing has changed, except maybe the amounts of the bribes. For that matter, I recall reading somewhere that Plato was complaining about roughly the same thing way WAY back when.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
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    ECA (profile), May 5th, 2014 @ 11:46am

    as if'

    Republican majority "actually said Congress shouldn't have any special perks. As if having a congressional agency that provides advice is a perk."

    And how many OTHER Gov./CORP agencies are there that DO THE SAME...telling the GOV. what is being done and what is happening.. We could get rid of 90% of our gov. If we got rid of all the groups and facilities..

     

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  29.  
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    zip, May 5th, 2014 @ 1:03pm

    probably a good thing

    The best solution to the rampant corruption that plagues this country might be to just get rid of the federal government -- all of it -- one agency at a time.

    I think the closure of OTA is a good thing because it's one less revolving door in Washington -- one less agency to be infiltrated and corrupted by corporate lobbyists.

    Was it a coincidence that right after OTA's closure, the federal government started going after Microsoft for monopolistic practices. Had M$ captured OTA, and the agency had not been disbanded, it's very possible that Bill Gates would never have had to undergo that famously embarrassing deposition.

    All federal regulatory and advisement agencies and departments, despite often being founded under good intentions, will eventually become under pressure to turn into the guard dogs for legacy industries, and therefore tasked with suppressing innovators and upstarts.

    OT: I've noticed on several occasions that Techdirt articles have tended to pop up within a few days after a certain "off-topic" topic was introduced in the reader comments section. Either it's amazing coincidence, or are Techdirt readers (unknowingly) shaping the site's direction through their comments?

    Like this one:

    http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20140501/09002327089/larry-lessig-launches-crowdfunded-superpac -to-try-to-end-superpacs.shtml#c503

     

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  30.  
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    That One Guy (profile), May 5th, 2014 @ 1:06pm

    Re: Can you tell the difference?

    That's easy, you just look for the 'For Sale' tags, allows you to spot the politicians in a matter of seconds.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 5th, 2014 @ 1:35pm

    No Congress, it's not cute, endearing, or "old fashioned" to be clueless about technology. It's frightening, embarrassing, and a sign that you're completely out of touch with reality itself.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
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    Trails (profile), May 5th, 2014 @ 2:07pm

    Newt

    Newt dumped OTA like it was a loved one with a life threatening and debilitating disease!!

    Amirite?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 5th, 2014 @ 3:51pm

    Re: Re:

    Everyone always has an agenda for anything.

    This is what I tell my family when they start throwing around cliches like 'Pushing the XYZ Agenda on this country'

    It's reached the point of absurdity where I'm now tempted to carry around a bag full of agendas with different symbols. So I might be able to 'push my agendas' on some unsuspecting rube.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
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    Anonymous, May 5th, 2014 @ 4:37pm

    Re:

    Just think of how much money could be saved by getting rid of Social Security altogether.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
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    Vel the Enigmatic, May 5th, 2014 @ 5:21pm

    Re: Re: Okay, time for a rant that would make Karkat proud.

    That better be a joke: The Congressman

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
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    Pragmatic, May 7th, 2014 @ 2:05am

    They're letting the Supply side of the market do the deciding, Mike. We on the Demand side don't get a look in. When they say, "Let the market decide," they mean, "Let the suppliers decide." We the people don't get a say in the matter. In an open, fair market, we would.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
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    Pragmatic, May 7th, 2014 @ 2:08am

    Re: Re:

    Whose money could be saved? Social Security is funded by tax and we all pay into it. If we get rid of it, where will the money go? It belongs to the people and is being held in trust for them. To take it away would be to rob them of their pensions.

    What would you replace it with? Would you really leave them to the tender mercies of Wall St.? They've been itching to get their hands on our money for decades. Don't give it to them.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
    identicon
    Pragmatic, May 7th, 2014 @ 2:24am

    Re: It's not just tech that got axed by Newt 2 decades ago

    I've always laughed at the idea that cutting taxes would bring in more tax revenues. It's basically Robin Hood in reverse; the idea is that the now richer people would, out of sheer gratitude for having more money, rush off and create jobs in order to share it out. Nothing to do with making a profit, which they (surprisingly) don't seem to think entrepreneurship is actually for. So, they assume, the people hired by the now richer entrepreneurs will pay tax, and this is what will raise tax revenues.

    Except that if your wages are too damn low you end up having to claim welfare to keep yourself and your family afloat, which creates a net loss in revenues.

    And if you're more likely to get richer by playing the stock market than investing in a business, what are you going to do, however generous you are? Why, invest in the stock market, of course!

    And that's why Supply-side economics doesn't work, friends and neighbors. It assumes there will always be a demand side, that everyone has equal access to the market on both sides, and it denies the cumulative effects of distortion.

    Even there was an open market, making it fair in a consumer society would require us having enough disposable income to take part in it. As it is, some of us are struggling to put bread on the table. Tell me again how we can all benefit from a system that requires that only those who earn the least money have to pay tax to support those who earn the most.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
    identicon
    Anonymous, May 7th, 2014 @ 4:49pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    "where will the money go?" "It belongs to the people". You just answered your own question.
    "Whose money could be saved?" "Social security is funded by a tax and we all pay into it". Again, you answered your own question.
    "What would you replace it with?". To answer that, I'll just say this country got along fine for many, many years without Social Security.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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