Monday, January 12, 2015

Fox in the Hen House

There is something fundamentally broken about the way our government operates. Ignoring how ridiculous the incumbent win rate is, or the fact that we are now in an oligarchy represented by those with more wealth than many in our country can even imagine, the real concern is in our legislative committees.

Congress oversees so many bills and pieces of our national government that they attempt to delegate those responsibilities and lighten the load. Covering issues like agriculture, economy and veterans affairs, these committees not only are responsible for legislation in these areas but on hearings and even the budgets of government agencies.

The ideal is that those with expertise or grounding in the subject matter of these committees would serve as members. The reality is far from the ideal. How our system currently works is that the leadership of the parties in control decide who gets placed into these committees and who chairs them. Yesterday, as part of the transition of our Senate to Republican Control, Senator Ted Cruz was appointed chair of the Space, Science and Competitiveness committee. Senator Cruz's appointment is the sign of a broken system.

This committee oversees "science, engineering, and technology research and development" including the agency NASA. The biggest fear with Cruz's new position is that he has a bad track record when it comes to science and NASA. There is also concern, as a die-hard Tea Party Budget Hawk, that Cruz will take an AX to the budget of the agency. As the main spear-header of the government shutdown, he caused more lasting damage to scientific research than we can really measure. As a staunch Climate-Change denier, Cruz seems like he would be less than likely to listen to NASA's findings on the subject. NASA is the leading source of climate data, so the publicly stated goal of both Cruz and other republicans on the committee to refocus NASA on space exploration creates a nervous situation.

One may think that being faced with the findings of NASA's carbon project, or witnessing the ice-caps receding from NASA's Operation: Ice-Bridge could change the denier into a believer, but his historic denial of facts and his long standing on this same committee makes most doubt such an effect will occur.

This leadership shift should come as no surprise, the high likelihood of Cruz becoming a "Lead Senator on science" was reported after November elections caused the political shakeup. Added to that is the fact that currently 72% of Republican Senators deny that humans have a role in climate change - or that it is happening at all. That number is getting higher with the new power shift.

What is shocking is that the American people, besides the power to vote for elected officials, have no control over committees or who is in charge of them. There are no checks and balances over these committee assignments. These type of odd assignments happen all the time. In fact the majority of the science committee members on conservative side have been climate deniers since the 1970s.

The thought comes to mind that those who should be making decisions on science legislation and budget should be Scientists. As Neil DeGrasse Tyson pointed out eloquently, there is a lack of scientists in congress.

What we as members of the public can do is voice our concerns and make sure that scientists have a say in our legislature's science work.

In the last few years NASA has discovered exoplanets that could support life, found water on other planets and successfully landed a rover on a comet. These successes are on the back of a limited budget and the agency should be above reproach from a Senator with an ax to grind who is only in a position of power due to a broken system.