Office of Technology Assessment

Office of Technology Assessment
OTA seal

The Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) was an office of the United States Congress from 1972 to 1995. OTA's purpose was to provide Congressional members and committees with objective and authoritative analysis of the complex scientific and technical issues of the late 20th century, i.e. technology assessment. It was a leader in practicing and encouraging delivery of public services in innovative and inexpensive ways, including distribution of government documents through electronic publishing. Its model was widely copied around the world.

Princeton University hosts The OTA Legacy site "the complete collection of OTA publications along with additional materials that illuminate the history and impact of the agency." On July 23, 2008 the Federation of American Scientists launched a similar archive that includes interviews and additional documents about OTA.



Congress created the Office of Technology Assessment in 1972, Public Law 92-484. It was governed by a twelve-member board, comprising six members of Congress from each party, half from the Senate and half from the House of Representatives. During its twenty-four-year life it produced about 750 studies on a wide range of topics, including acid rain, health care, global climate change, and polygraphs.


The front and back of a tee shirt created and worn by some staff of the OTA to express their sentiments about the intent of the 104th Congress to terminate their service while simultaneously increasing the Library of Congress' budget by an amount equal to nearly twice that of OTA's. Compare to the official seal above, and note the arm of Congress strangling the symbolic U.S.A. in the satirical version.

Criticism of the agency was fueled by Fat City, a 1980 book by Donald Lambro that was regarded favorably by the Reagan administration; it called OTA an "unnecessary agency" that duplicated government work done elsewhere. OTA was abolished (technically "de-funded") in the "Contract with America" period of Newt Gingrich's Republican ascendancy in Congress.

At the time that 104th Congress withdrew funding for OTA, it had a full-time staff of 143 people and an annual budget of $21.9 million. The Office of Technology Assessment closed on September 29, 1995. The move was criticized at the time, including by Republican representative Amo Houghton who commented at the time of OTA’s defunding that "we are cutting off one of the most important arms of Congress when we cut off unbiased knowledge about science and technology."[1]

Critics of the closure saw it as an example of politics overriding science and a variety of scientists such as biologist PZ Myers have called for the agency's reinstatement.[2]

Subsequent developments

While the OTA was closed down, the very idea of technology assessment survived, in particular in Europe, see for instance the European Parliamentary Technology Assessment (EPTA) network with members of technology assessment units working for various European parliaments. The US Government Accountability Office has meanwhile established a TA unit, somehow taking on former duties of the OTA. Washington insiders with long memories viewed this as an ironic twist, as it was the GAO's former Chief Budget and Finance Officer, Sanford Cornett, who was called out of retirement to oversee OTA's budget after it was created.

While campaigning, Hillary Clinton pledged to work to restore the OTA if elected President.[3][4] On April 29, 2009, House of Representatives member Rush Holt of New Jersey wrote an Op-Ed articulating the argument for restoring the OTA.[5]

In April 2010 The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars released a report entitled "Reinventing Technology Assessment" that emphasized citizen engagement and called for performing the functions of the OTA by creating a nationwide network of non-partisan policy research organizations, universities and science museums: the Expert & Citizen Assessment of Science & Technology (ECAST) network. ECAST would conduct both expert and participatory technology assessments for Congress and other clients. The author of the report was Dr. Richard Sclove of the Loka Institute. The report states that the drive to modernize OTA was initiated by Darlene Cavalier, a popular citizen science advocate and author of the Science Cheerleader blog.[6] Cavalier outlined the idea of the citizen network in a guest blog post for Discover Magazine's The Intersection.[7] She introduced the concept in an article in Science Progress in July 2008.[8]

External links


  1. ^ Nader proposes reviving Congressional Office of Technology Assessment
  2. ^ PZ Myers (September 14, 2007). "Bring back the OTA". Scienceblogs. Retrieved 2007-10-05. 
  3. ^ Patrick Healy; Cornelia Dean (October 5, 2007). "Clinton Says She Would Shield Science From Politics". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-10-05. 
  4. ^ "Scientific Integrity and Innovation: Remarks at the Carnegie Institution for Science". October 4, 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-05.  Text of Clinton's speech to the to Carnegie Institution
  5. ^ "Reversing the Congressional Science Lobotomy". April 29, 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-29. 
  6. ^ Richard Sclove (April 2010). "Reinventing Technology Assessment: A 21st Century Model". Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Retrieved 2010-05-05. 
  7. ^ Darlene Cavalier (April 29, 2010). "A Little Respect: Involving Citizens in Technology Assessment". Discover. Retrieved 2010-05-05. 
  8. ^ Darlene Cavalier (July 7, 2008). "Harnessing Citizen Scientists". Science Progress. Retrieved 2010-05-05. 
  • Chris Mooney, The Republican War on Science (New York: Basic Books, 2005), ch. 5.

Further reading

  • Bruce Bimber: Politics of Expertise in Congress: The Rise and Fall of the Office of Technology Assessment, State University of New York Press 1996

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