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Why the Subcommittee on National Security Hearing on UAPs Was Important – And It’s Not the Reason You Think

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Tanya Settles
August 4, 2023

Once upon a time, in a galaxy not so far away, I had a big decision to make. I was at that point in my graduate training where I needed to decide, in the vast domain of public affairs scholarship and practice, where I wanted to hang my hat. At the time, it seemed like a monumental decision. In the end, I selected policy advocacy that strengthens relationships between communities and local government, and I’ve happily worked in that space ever since. I’m a denizen of the local government policy domain, but space policy, including the military uses of space, has always been a place I like to visit. It’s sort of like an intellectual vacation I occasionally enjoy. 

On July 26, the Subcommittee on National Security, the Border and Foreign Affairs of the Congressional Committee of Oversight and Accountability held a publicly broadcasted and recorded hearing on Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (UAP). Of course, as a policy junkie with a side interest in space policy, I was curious about testimony from experts who experienced or claimed direct knowledge of encounters with UAPs. Important information about national security, organizational culture of the military around UAP reporting and the level of Congressional interest in such matters was somewhat clarified. From the space I occupy, it was a remarkable hearing. However, the most striking element of this hearing wasn’t sworn Congressional testimony of recovered non-human biologics or potential reverse engineering of recovered off-world craft. The real surprise was a hint that when there’s a topic of national interest it is possible for members of Congress to set aside partisanship, come together and engage in respectful discourse. 

During this hearing, Representatives adhered to decorum, yielded time and developed insightful and respectful questions directed to those offering testimony. Not once did someone yell, insult or denigrate another person based on apparent political motive. Instead, our elected Representatives were thoughtful, polite and exhibited tentative steps to reach across the aisle because there was a shared interest and a genuine desire for understanding. They behaved in exactly a manner that honors their office and position. Members put aside conflict and sought knowledge, evidence and science. Admittedly, there are potential national security threats and interests that shouldn’t be discussed in a public forum. Data collection and analysis related to UAPs is growing, yet, far from perfect. Possibly, the realization of lawmakers that “we don’t know what we don’t know” had a chilling effect on political rhetoric because of a shared sense of humanity. As a result, elected leaders put aside skepticism and prejudgment and listened with the sole intent to learn. 

Expecting agreement from members of Congress, or any political entity for that matter, is unrealistic. It is also undesirable. Good public policy emerges from disagreement and discourse because it means decision makers are framing policy problems by considering multiple perspectives and the experiences of those they represent who may live very different lives from their own. Public policy is messy by design, and it needs to be. Without disagreement, it is impossible to fully appreciate the impact of policy decisions on the lives of people elected leaders represent. There’s an important difference, though, between conflict and disagreement. Conflict is emotional poison that clouds our ability to engage in rational decision making. Disagreements can be negotiated and resolved. When managed appropriately, respectful disagreement allows people to hear above the political noise and make better policy decisions.

Maybe because this hearing was widely publicized and expected to draw viewers across the nation—if not the world—our elected leaders were on their best behavior. Maybe because UAPs are difficult to politicize, members focused on the common ground of shared interest in controlling national security threats and public transparency. The topic is intriguing because it gets to the core of our humanity and causes us to consider the possibility that we’re not alone in the universe. The subcommittee hearing was one of those rare occasions where members of Congress engaged in thoughtful reciprocity and diplomacy to explore the difference between what is truth and what is fiction. Maybe it’s because if there is, in fact, non-human, extraterrestrial intelligence their political leanings are unknown. Nobody wants to burn bridges in case there’s the opportunity for an intergalactic political alliance. Whatever the reason, there was a glimmer of hope and a view of what interactions between members of Congress could—and should—look like in the future. Maybe, just maybe, Congress nudged the needle just a little bit in the space-time continuum toward more respectful discourse, and that benefits everyone. 

Author:  Tanya Settles is the CEO of Paradigm Public Affairs, LLC.  Tanya’s areas of work include relationship building between local governments and communities, restorative justice, and the impacts of natural and human-caused disasters on at-risk populations.  Tanya can be reached at [email protected].  The opinions in this column and any mistakes are hers alone.

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