Saturday, December 7, 2013

La sauce au jars

One of the less endearing media manifestations of vox pop is the game of Blame Obama -- for just about anything:  the weather,  your messed-up lovelife, the fall of the Roman empire …  Well, turnaround is fair play;  so although this one, targeting Gingrich, may be a mite far-fetched, still, let us dunk him in this vat of gander-sauce, and see how he likes it.

As the Obama administration continues to unsuck its health care website, one questions lingers: How did this important government project get so screwed up? If you ask technologist Clay Johnson, the insurance exchange's problems began, in a way, in 1995, when "Congress decided to lobotomize itself."

Johnson was referring to a specific action lawmakers took then: They killed a tiny federal agency called the Office of Technology Assessment. Established in 1972 as Congress' nonpartisan in-house think tank, the OTA studied new technologies and offered recommendations on how Washington could adapt to them. But then Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) turned off its lights.
"An OTA review might have prevented some heartburn and embarrassment" associated with the rollout, argues Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), an astrophysicist who has previously introduced legislation that would resurrect the agency.

Warning Congress about problems with—and explaining them—would have been right in OTA's wheelhouse. The office, Rep. George Brown (D-Calif.) dryly remarked in 1995, was a "defense against the dumb." During its 24-year existence, the agency developed a reputation for sharp, foresighted analysis on the problems of the new information age: It called for a new, reinforced tanker design a decade before the Exxon-Valdez spill; emphasized the danger of fertilizer bombs 15 years before Oklahoma City; predicted in 1982 that email would render the postal service obsolete; and warned that President Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (better known as "Star Wars") would likely result in a "catastrophic failure" if it were ever used.

For further dish about Gingrich, and his various Gingrettas, click here.

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