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Defunct Agency Still Missed

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Newt Gingrich's rise in the presidential polling has prompted at least one commentator to join an old chorus bemoaning the loss 15 years ago of an agency once revered on Capitol Hill. The Office of Technology Assessment from 1972 to 1995 provided Congress with nonpartisan scientific studies of the impact of policy options.

With the rise of alternative knowledge sources on the Internet looming, the new Republican majority saw fit to defund (not technically abolish) it as part of its Contract with America -- a rare instance of a federal agency actually going out of business.

In in a blast at Gingrich's "lobotomy of Congress" in the Huffington Post on Tuesday, Lorelei Kelly, director of a communications hub called the New Strategic Security Initiative, writes of a "legislative knowledge gap" that is "especially debilitating for issues that require context, forecasting and expert judgment. This is a significant problem in the modern world, where congressional actions have global implications, but members fail to connect the dots," she writes.

"Notable staff losses included the Arms Control and Foreign Policy Caucus, the Office of Technology Assessment, and the bipartisan Democratic Study Group, a rapid response team of researchers. Shared committee staffs were slashed. Many experts at the Congressional Research Service left."

Given the current budget crunch, more such cuts may be in the offing.

Charles S. Clark joined Government Executive in the fall of 2009. He has been on staff at The Washington Post, Congressional Quarterly, National Journal, Time-Life Books, Tax Analysts, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, and the National Center on Education and the Economy. He has written or edited online news, daily news stories, long features, wire copy, magazines, books and organizational media strategies.

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