Technology Assessment and Congress

The Office of Technology Assessment occupied a unique role among the Congressional information agencies. Unlike the General Accounting Office, which is primarily concerned with evaluation of ongoing programs, and the Congressional Research Service, which provides rapid information on legislative topics, OTA provided a deeper, more comprehensive, and more technical level of analysis. Through eleven Congressional sessions, OTA became a key resource for Congressional members and staff confronting technological issues in crafting public policy. Its existence brought a healthy balance to the analytical resources available to the executive and legislative branches of government.

The agency’s legacy is found in the many items of legislation it influenced and in the channels of communication its staff helped foster between legislative policymakers and members of the scientific, technical, and business communities. The Office’s legacy is also found in its hundreds of publications, originally gathered in electronic form on a Princeton site (available here) and on the companion set of CD-ROMs, The OTA Legacy, 1972-1995.

This new site improves upon the Princeton site in several ways. We have recently received hundreds of additional documents not previously available to the public, and plan to release them in a regular “Document of the Day” feature. The new website also includes a search engine that allows users to quickly and easily find specific content in OTA reports. In the video section there is an interview with Rush Holt, who explains why he has been leading the effort to bring OTA back to life. This effort, if it occurs, will be tracked on this site.

The OTA Archive contains all the formally issued reports of the Office of Technology Assessment, as well as many background papers and contractor papers, over 100,000 pages of the best available analyses of the scientific and technical policy issues of the 1970s-1990s. In addition, the links below lead to information about how OTA prepared the reports, and to supplemental historical materials that illuminate the history and impact of the agency, which has been widely imitated internationally by governments interested in wise and informed stewardship of the public trust on issues with technical complexity. The OTA reports collected here are widely acknowledged to be nonpartisan, objective, and thorough. In many cases, they have also proven to be of enduring interest and relevance. Recent commentary about OTA, written since the Princeton site was created has been added below, as well as documents and testimony from a Congressional hearing on scientific and technical advice for the Congress held in 2006. By publishing its written legacy in electronic form, the Office of Technology Assessment hopes to preserve the investment made in its work for future users.

(The above commentary, with minor changes, was originally posted on this Princeton website)

History and Function of the Office of Technology Assessment

The Assessment Process

The Technology Assessment Act (October 13, 1972)

Technology Assessment: Current Trends and the Myth of a Formula By Peter Blair, Assistant Director, Office of Technology Assessment

New Challenge or Past Revisited? The Office of Technology Assessment in Historical Context By Gregory Kunkle, Technology in Society, Vol. 17, No. 2, pp. 175-196, 1995.

Science and Technology Advice for the Congress: Insights from the OTA Experience By David Guston, Workshop paper, “Creating Institutional Arrangements to Provide Science and Technology Advice to Congress”, Washington DC, June 14, 2001.

The End of OTA

Remarks of Roger Herdman, OTA Director September 29, 1995

In Memoriam The Office of Technology Assessment, 1972-1995 Hon. Amo Houghton Congressional Record-September 28, 1995

Press Coverage

Technology Assessment No Longer Theoretical. By James H. Krieger, Chemical and Engineering News, April 6, 1970

The Debate Over Assessing Technology. Business Week, April 8, 1972

OTA Caught in Partisan Crossfire. By Colin Norman, Technology Review, October/November 1977

Little-Known Agency Draws Worldwide Interest. By David Burnham, The New York Times, January 12, 1984

OTA Emerges as Nonpartisan Player. By Barton Reppert, Associated Press/The Washington Post, January 5, 1988

Death by Congressional Ignorance. By M. Granger Morgan, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 2, 1995

Congress’s Science Agency Prepares to Close Its Doors. By Warren Leary, The New York Times, September 24, 1995

Congressional Hearings

Hearing before the Subcommittee on Computer Services of the Committee on Rules and Administration   U.S. Senate (March 2, 1972) “Office of Technology Assessment for the U.S. Congress”

House Science Committee Hearing, “Scientific and Technical Assessment and Advice for the U.S. Congress” July 25, 2006
Written testimony by:

  • Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ)
  • Dr. Peter Blair, Executive Director, Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences, National Research Council
  • Dr. Catherine Hunt, President-elect, American Chemical Society
  • Dr. Jon M. Peha, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Public Policy, and Associate Director of the Center for Wireless & Broadband Networking, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Dr. Albert Teich, Director, Science and Policy Programs, American Association for the Advancement of Science

Full transcript of the hearing (From the U.S. Government Printing Office)

Recent Articles and Reports about OTA

The Politics of Expertise in Congress. By Bruce Bimber, SUNY Press, 1996

Science and technology advice for Congress. By M. Granger Morgan and Jon Peha, Resources for the Future, 2003

Science and Congress. By Adam Keiper, The New Atlantis, Fall 2004/Winter 2005

Requiem for an Office. By Chris Mooney, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, September/October 2005

Bring Back the Office of Technology Assessment. By Laura Kahn, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, May 21, 2007

Statement of Representative Holt on the Office of Technology Assessment, for The AAAS Meeting, February 14, 2009