New Ash Center Report Offers a Road Map for Building Technology Expertise in Congress

January 30, 2020
New Ash Center Report Offers a Road Map for Building Technology Expertise in Congress

Cambridge, MA — Today, the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, a research center at Harvard Kennedy School, released “Science, Technology, and Democracy: Building a Modern Congressional Technology Assessment Office,” a new paper by Zach Graves and Daniel Schuman offering recommendations and a road map for resurrecting a technology assessment capability in Congress.

Two decades after it was defunded, the demise of the former congressional Office of Technical Assessment has left a palpable void on Capitol Hill.  The erosion of expertise in congressional support agencies, coupled with cuts in committee staff has left Congress ill-prepared to grapple with major science and technology legal and regulatory issues. This, Graves and Schuman argue, has “left Congress in the hands of overworked, under-experienced generalist staff that are straining under the weight of their responsibilities—and revolving-door lobbyists have stepped in to carry the load.” 

Together, Graves, a 2019 Technology and Democracy Fellow at the Ash Center and head of policy at the Lincoln Network, and Schuman, policy director at Demand Progress, make the case that reviving Congress’s technical assessment capabilities presents “a rare opportunity for institution-building.” 

Specifically, the pair calls for restoring and modernizing Congress’s technical assessment capacity by improving and expanding upon the work being done at the Government Accountability Office (GAO)’s recently established Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics (STAA) team with new authorizing legislation. They also argue for the creation of a smaller, emerging-technologies-focused version of OTA they call the Technology Assessment Service (TAS). This new organization would complement the work being done at STAA, but would be free to engage in “nimbler (and long-term) proactive thinking and horizon scanning about emerging technologies and other science and technology issues.” 

“The revival of a technology assessment capacity inside the legislative branch can help set the tone for the next quarter century and beyond,” Graves and Schuman argue as they make the case for more sustained investments in Congress’s overall science and technology capacity. 


About the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation    

The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation advances excellence in governance and strengthens democratic institutions worldwide. Through its research, education, international programs, and government innovations awards, the Center fosters creative and effective government problem solving and serves as a catalyst for addressing many of the most pressing needs of the world’s citizens. For more information, visit www.ash.harvard.edu.

Contact Information

Daniel Harsha
Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation
Daniel_Harsha@hks.harvard.edu
 
Sarah Grucza
Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation
Sarah_Grucza@hks.harvard.edu