OTA Revival Gains Steam in Congress

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Language in the House FY 2019 Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill calls for the Congressional Research Service to study what scientific and technology policy resources are available to members of Congress. The bill, which sailed through the House Appropriations Committee on May 8, marks another step in reviving the long-shuttered Office of Technology Assessment (OTA).

Last month, Reps. Bill Foster, D-Ill., and Mark Takano, D-Calif., introduced legislation to reopen OTA. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., will lead the charge for a companion measure in the Senate.

OTA was created in 1972 to provide members of Congress and congressional committees with objective analysis of complex scientific and technical issues facing the United States. Closed in 1995, OTA functioned as a non-partisan research shop that weighed in on a wide variety of issues ranging from nuclear arms control to electronic health records to oil and shale technologies.

“This study should also assess the potential need within the Legislative Branch to create a separate entity charged with the mission of providing nonpartisan advice on issues of science and technology,” the legislation says.

In the interest of making the Federal government as efficient as possible, the legislation also calls for a study of whether a revival of OTA would duplicate services already available to members of Congress.

The bill also notes that the Appropriations committee has received “dozens of requests” advocating for a restoration of OTA. When it was operational, the office had been governed by a Technology Assessment Board of six senators and six House members, evenly split by party.

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