|Latest News August 2, 2001
Return of the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment?
Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) has introduced legislation in the House of Representatives to revive the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), an arm of the U.S. Congress that provided comprehensive assessments of a wide range of scientific and technical issues from 1972 to 1995.
During operation, OTA supplied Congress with background papers, briefings and testimony, but is best known for its in-depth, objective reports of complex scientific and technical issues. These reports took one to two years to produce and could be requested by the Chairman of any Congressional committee.
OTAs Environment Program addressed areas including environmental health and risk management, the use of renewable resources, and pollution prevention, control and remediation. Its reports covered topics such as agriculture, biological diversity, air and water pollution, the effects of weather and climate change, management of solid, hazardous and nuclear wastes, risk assessment methods and policy, and public land management.
Resurrecting OTA was suggested in Recommendations for Improving the Scientific Basis for Environmental Decisionmaking, the report from NCSEs first National Conference on Science, Policy and the Environment, as a change that could "significantly improve efficiency and communication among scientists and between scientists and decisionmakers." The full text of this report can be found online at www.NCSEonline.org.
National Public Radios July 18th broadcast of All Things Considered included a segment on reopening OTA. During this piece, Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), Chairman of the House Science Committee, and Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), a physicist by training, lauded the work of OTA and their "wonderful, detailed, long-term studies." However, Newt Gingrich, Speaker of the House of Representatives when OTA was eliminated, noted that many conservatives felt that OTA "was used by liberals to cover up political ideology with a gloss of science."
Rep. Holts bill, H.R. 2148, would revive OTA by simply reenacting its 1972 formative legislation and authorizing a budget of $20 million per year for five years. This is the same level of funding OTA received in 1994. Currently, this legislation has 50 cosponsors, including:
To express your opinion on H.R. 2148 and the revival of OTA, contact your Representative and Senators at:
For details about OTA, including an archive of reports, see http://www.wws.princeton.edu/~ota/.