Lessons Learned from the Legacy of the U.S. Office of Technology Assessment

Sunday, 16 February 2014
Regency A (Hyatt Regency Chicago)
Peter Blair , National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC
This presentation summarizes the history of the former Congressional Office of Technology Assessment (1972-1995) and efforts since its closure to provide independent, objective, and authoritative science and technology policy advice tuned specifically to the needs of the United States Congress.  It is a summary of a monograph to be published in the fall of 2013:  Congress’s Own Think Tank: Learning from the Legacy of the Office of Technology Assessment (1972-1995), (New York: Palgrave McMillan, forthcoming, 2013).  The presentation includes:


  • A chronicle of key decision points in Congressional deliberation in the 1960s about creating an organizational capacity to better inform itself about the implications of new technology.
  • An account of the crucial decisions in the House and Senate debates that led to the unique design of the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) in the early 1970s.
  • A description of the crucial decisions by the OTA’s unique congressional governance group, the Technology Assessment Board, and the 4 agency directors over the agency’s history, and in particular in the late 1970s, as OTA matured as an organization and developed a study process tuned specifically to the needs of the committees of Congress.
  • A recap of the events in 1994 as a new congressional leadership sought to reduce the size of government choosing as a symbol of budget austerity to eliminate funding of OTA.
  • A comparison of the unique OTA study processes as it was practiced for two decades with contemporary processes of the Government Accountability Office and the National Research Council.
  • An overview of attempts by various organizations to fill the gap in the wake of OTA’s closure and a number of new forces shaping the current context for science and technology issues facing the Congress and an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of those efforts.