WASHINGTON (House Science Committee PR) — Today, Reps. Mark Takano (D-CA), Sean Casten (D-IL), Bill Foster (D-IL), and Don Beyer (D-VA) reintroduced the Office of Technology Assessment Improvement and Enhancement Act to strengthen the existing Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) by making it more available and accessible to Members’ needs.
“For more than two decades, the Office of Technology Assessment provided relevant, unbiased, technical and scientific assessments for Members of Congress and their staff. As emerging technologies become increasingly more utilized, it’s more important than ever to ensure that OTA is preserved and supported,” said Rep. Mark Takano. “I’m proud to have reintroduced the Office of Technology Assessment Improvement and Enhancement Act with my colleagues, as these reforms to OTA will allow us to become more effective legislators in the present and prepare for any technological challenges in the future.”
“Each of us who serve in Congress brings a unique perspective and expertise which informs how we serve our constituents. I am confident of my ability to evaluate energy technologies and their impact on our economy and environment, but I cannot claim expertise on cybersecurity or gene-drive technologies. How many technologies with truly revolutionary potential have failed to fund in favor of less useful dead ends? The Office of Technology Assessment Improvement and Enhancement Act will ensure we’re prepared to tackle the technological challenges of the future,” said Rep. Sean Casten.
“For years, Congress has not been adequately prepared to engage with complex technical issues that are increasingly important to the legislation we consider. From social media’s role in our elections to how new and different technologies will shape our energy future, it’s never been more important for Members of Congress to have access to expert, forward looking, non-partisan technical expertise and advice. That’s why I’m proud to help lead the effort to revive the OTA and bring Congress into the 21st Century,” said Rep. Bill Foster.
“The Office of Technology Assessment long served Congress as a non-partisan advisory body on technology matters, which is a major need now,” said Rep. Don Beyer. “Today Congress is confronted by complex issues ranging from cybersecurity to AI to energy and climate, and so much more — and reconstituting OTA would provide the Legislative Branch with a crucial internal source of expertise and counsel. Our bill would restore and update this key resource and bolster Congress’ independence and knowledge in a key area for years to come.”
For more than twenty years, Congress had the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), an independent, bipartisan agency set up to provide information on technology and its potential impacts. However, in 1995 the agency was defunded, stripping Congress of the ability to access unbiased tech advisors as we entered the digital age. Today, as Americans are feeling the effects of emerging technologies—including issues around data privacy and artificial intelligence—we are experiencing the repercussions of the decision to defund this vital piece of the Congressional support system.
Congress’ technology assessment needs will only continue to grow as it works to anticipate the potential benefits and effects of emerging technologies. As Congress considers the use of technologies such as AI, facial recognition, quantum computing, and emerging energy storage and generation in both the private and public sectors, it is increasingly important that Members of Congress have access to unbiased assessments of what is on the horizon.
Background on the legislation:
The Office of Technology Assessment Improvement and Enhancement Act introduces enhancements to the existing Office of Technology Assessment statute (2 US Code §472) to:
- Provide expertise with quicker turnaround times by:
- adding language to emphasize that information should be provided as expeditiously, effectively, and efficiently as possible;
- adding Congressional Research Service-style deliverables to the Office’s function and duties such as providing briefings, informal conversations, and technical assistance to Members on science and technology issues without the need for Board review, as well as objective policy options when requested; and
- requiring preliminary findings of ongoing technology assessments in addition to completed analyses.
- Serve all Members of Congress by:
- enabling any Member to request a technology assessment to be considered by the Technology Assessment Board;
- updating Board appointment so that members are appointed by bipartisan party leadership in each chamber;
- directing the Office to be as open and transparent with Members about the request review process as possible; and
- requiring at least one annual Member Day.
- Enhance transparency by:
- updating existing language to require final reports of assessments to be made publicly available whenever possible; and
- requiring an annual report on requests received, assessments completed and ongoing, and other activities.
- Maintain the Office’s forward-looking and rigorous approach by:
- introducing a rotator program to hire experts from academia and industry modeled after the rotator program at the National Science Foundation.
- Complement existing Leg Branch agencies including GAO’s new Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics team by:
- requiring coordination with CRS and GAO to avoid duplication or overlapping activities.