Document of the Day: The Technology Assessment Act of 1972, December 19, 1972

Today’s document of the day summarizes the key concepts, background and rationale underlying the creation of the Office of Technology Assessment. The report, by  Walter H. Hahn and Rosemary Chalk of the Congressional Research Service,  also gives a brief  legislative history of the Act (P.L. 92-484).

Technology assessment was first discussed in the House Subcommittee on Science and Astronautics. According to the report,

The committee began serious work on the assessment concept in 1965, and on October 17, 1966, the Subcommittee on Science, Research, and Development published a report which examined the consequences and secondary impacts of technical innovations. This report was the first to use the term “technology assessment,” and the  authors cited technological unemployment, toxic pesticides, pollution, exhaustion of resources, the disposal of radioactive wastes, and invasions of personal liberty by electronic snooping and computer data banks as examples of the potentially dangerous consequences of technology. In view of these unforeseeable impacts, the subcommittee concluded that an “early warning” system for both the good and bad results of technology would be of great use to Congress.

In describing why this office should be a part of Congress the report noted,

The proposition of this Act is that the Congress is the proper national forum for deliberating and deciding upon conflicting goals, values, priorities, resource allocations and the distribution of benefits, risks, and costs, all of which are involved in technology assessment.  To carry out these responsibilities, The Congress should be one of the best informed institutions is this country.  Technology assessment alone will not achieve this desired state, but it does offer significant improvements to the current system.

This report is part of a growing colletion of historic documents found  here in the OTA Library.