Science, Technology, & Democracy: Building a Modern Congressional Technology Assessment Office

    Zach Graves and Daniel Schuman, January 2020

    This paper offers recommendations and a road map for the future success of a restarted technology assessment office in Congress. We look at three potential approaches: (1) Building up the Government Accountability Office (GAO)’s OTA-like capacity in its newly created Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics (STAA) team, and giving it greater resources and structural autonomy; (2) Reviving OTA but updating its procedures and statutory authority; and (3) A hybrid approach wherein both GAO and a new OTA develop different capacities and specializations. (Spoiler: we favor the third approach.)
    The next section of this paper reviews what OTA was and how it functioned. The third section discusses the history of and rationale for the defunding of OTA, other cuts to Congress’s S&T capacity, and why this congressional capacity and expertise matter for democracy. The fourth section reviews efforts to revive OTA and other efforts to build new congressional S&T capacity. The fifth section discusses the political landscape for building S&T capacity, including the legislative branch appropriations process and the different political constituencies for S&T. The final section offers a detailed discussion of various structural recommendations for a new congressional technology assessment office, including an expanded STAA unit in GAO, and a new OTA.