Technology Assessment No Longer Theoretical

By James H. Krieger
 Technology Editor
 Chemical and Engineering News
 April 6, 1970

Technology assessment is no longer just a speculative concept. Perhaps sooner than many had expected, it could be on the verge of institutionalization. The concept has been embodied in a specific bill which will soon be introduced by Congressman Emilio Q. Daddario (D.-Conn.) in the House of Representatives (C&EN, March 30, 1970, p. 27).
 The bill will be something concrete to which involved persons can now respond. The problem may be one of reaching all those who should be involved but who are perhaps unaware that they are--particularly industry.
 As drafted, the bill would establish an Office of Technology Assessment to aid Congress in identifying and considering existing and probable impacts of technological application. OTA would consist of a technology assessment board to formulate policies of the office and a director to carry them out and to administer the operation. The board would be made up of 13 members--two senators, two representatives, the Comptroller General, the director of the Legislative Reference Service of the Library of Congress, and seven members from the public. The last would be persons eminent in one or more fields of science or engineering or experienced in administering technological activities. The director of OTA would be equivalent in rank to the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission or the director of the National Science Foundation.
 The bill as drafted asks $5 million for OTA for the first fiscal year. OTA would not itself operate any laboratories, pilot plants, or test facilities, but would contract with other organizations for whatever it feels is necessary.
 The bill leaves no question as to why technology assessment is considered a necessary activity. It notes that emergent national problems--physical, biological, and social--are of such a nature and are developing at such an unprecedented rate as to constitute a major threat to the security and general welfare of the United States. Such problems, it says, are largely the result of and are allied to the increasing pressure of population, the rapid consumption of natural resources, and the deterioration of the natural and social human environment. The growth in scale and extent of technological application, it continues, is a crucial element in such problems and either is or can be a pivotal influence with respect both to their causes and their solutions.
 No one can know at this point what technology would be assessed. Some would undoubtedly relate to government programs. But it isn’t difficult to imagine that much of it would be technology either initiated or carried out by industry. Much would be chemical technology or would directly or indirectly affect chemicals or chemical products.
 Suppose that technology assessment had been an operational concept, say, 20 years ago. Suppose also that something like today’s solid waste problem had been foreseen, and that packaging technology had been the subject of assessment. It is interesting to speculate on the direction that plastic and nonplastic packaging would have taken.
 This may seem a somewhat trivial example beside some of the potential problem areas now developing--genetic engineering or weather modification, for example. But it does serve to show that industry must become involved, whether or not the particular bill about to be introduced passes. If not this bill, then something similar will be passed eventually. If not this year, then next. It would be beneficial to the entire process of technology assessment if industry would adopt some positive role at the start, rather than responding later as an offended or regulated party when legislation based at least in part on technology assessment results.
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