September 19, 2019

Reps. Takano and Foster, Sens. Hirono and Tillis Introduce the Office of Technology Assessment Improvement and Enhancement Act

Washington, DC – Today, Reps. Mark Takano (D-CA) and Bill Foster (D-IL) and Sens. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) introduced the Office of Technology Assessment Improvement and Enhancement Act to introduce enhancements to the existing Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) statute (2 US Code §472) to make improvements to the OTA by making it more accessible and responsive to Members’ needs.

 “The foundation for good policy is accurate and objective analysis, and for more than two decades the OTA set that foundation by providing relevant, unbiased technical and scientific assessments for Members of Congress and staff. Defunding the OTA significantly eroded the technological capacity of this institution, especially as the use of technology became more prominent in our society,” said Rep. Takano. “An improved OTA – the Congressional Office of Technology – would provide Members of Congress with the support they need to be effective legislators; especially as emerging technologies are affecting every aspect of our daily lives. By making it more accessible, responsive, and transparent, these reforms will give Congress the ability to address the technological challenges of the present, and prepare for what’s in store in the future.”

“We live in a world where technology has become increasingly important in our personal lives, workplaces, and to our democracy. From social media’s role in our elections to artificial intelligence and how technology will affect the future of work, Congress is not adequately prepared to engage on technical issues. I’ve been proud to help lead the effort to revive the OTA, and I’m proud to join my colleagues on this legislation to bring the OTA into the 21st Century. This bill will enhance the OTA’s ability to provide quality, nonpartisan policy recommendations on technical issues that affect us now and will continue to impact us in the future,” said Rep. Foster.

 “Until it was defunded in the mid-1990s, the Office of Technology Assessment served the critical function of providing member of Congress with non-partisan, expert advice on technology matters.  As Congress is faced with issues that are more and more technically complex—from cybersecurity to artificial intelligence to quantum computing—it is vital that OTA not only be reconstituted, but that it be reformed to meet the demands of the modern Senate. The Office of Technology Assessment Improvement and Enhancement Act does just that,” Senator Hirono said. “The bill would make the new Congressional Office of Technology more accessible and accountable to members of Congress than its predecessor; require that advice be provided in a timely manner; and ensure that the Office remain staffed with experts with current experience in relevant fields. These are the types of commonsense reforms that all members can (and should) get behind.”

“A revised and reformed Office of Technology Assessment will play a crucial role in helping Congress tackle issues as diverse as data privacy, energy independence, and American innovation and entrepreneurship,” said Senator Tillis. “This bicameral, bipartisan legislation will give Congress the tools, resources, and policy expertise it needs to address the most pressing technological issues facing our country.”

For more than twenty years Congress had the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), an independent, bipartisan agency set up to provide unbiased 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.

The House FY20 Legislative Branch Appropriations bill includes funding to restore the OTA. This is money well-spent that will enable Congress to better address the opportunities and challenges of emerging technologies. 

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.

Press Contact

Dayanara Ramirez (202) 225-2305