Vol. 3, Issue 21, October 18, 2005
Congress Tells National Academies "Quit Writing Stuff, Dammit"
A major report released by a National Academies panel last week received a startling reception from Congressional officials who complained that they were already saturated with information and ordered a moratorium on new research.
"My staff's still trying to get through last year's stuff," said Congressman John Conyers. "And I'd be lying if I said we got through everything in 2003 and 2002 as well. Hell, I've got a paper warning me about Y2K on my desk. Enough is enough."
The report said that U.S. advantages in the marketplace and in science and technology have begun to erode and that a coordinated federal effort is needed to preserve America's "strategic and economic security" in the face of determined efforts by other countries such as China and India.
"America must act now to preserve its strategic and economic security by capitalizing on its knowledge-based resources," said committee chair Norman R. Augustine, former CEO of Lockheed Martin. "Understanding this report is vital to our nation's future!"
"Understanding this report involves reading 504 pages," retorted Congressman Tom Davis. "And there are no pictures to speak of. I can't pay people to get through a book like that, much less read it myself."
The National Academies is a group of several independent agencies that provide advice to the government on scientific, engineering and medical issues. On average, they produce over 200 new reports a year on subjects ranging from marine fisheries to seat belt use. There has been growing discontent among congressional staffer assigned to read and digest these reports in recent years, in part due to the ever-expanding range of subjects they must learn about and the "lack of dramatic interest" in the reports.
"Would it kill the National Academies to slip in a little romance or international espionage in some of these doorstops?" said Mark Pascal, a staffer in Congressman Davis' office. "For crying out loud, we already have to read the newspapers. They're bad enough; I mean, they change every day."
Journalists at the Washington Post have long been alleging that Congress is suffering "information overload," going so far as to set up a "sting" operation in which congressional offices were asked to respond to nonexistent issues and/or reports, such as the impact of mining in West Virginia on the Appalachian Giant Squid.
"Senator Robert Byrd actually held a press conference in support of the miners in that case," said Post reporter Henry Yeschenko, shaking his head ruefully. "What is even sadder is that neither he nor any of the reporters there figured out it was a hoax. A guy from the L.A. Times asked for calamari recipes for crying out loud."
The National Academies have replied that they are considering "alternative presentations" to make it easier to communicate with Congress, including a possible "video-based collaboration" with the makers of SpongeBob SquarePants.
China and India were strangely supportive of Congress' rejection of the National Academies report.
"American congressmen work too hard," said Ambassador Yang Jiechi. "It is not easy to run the world's current most powerful country. They should not be bothered with superfluous and defamatory analyses such as this. Shame on you, National Academies!"