Last week, Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) offered an amendment to the Legislative Branch appropriations bill looking to fund the Office of Technology Assessment,
an office of the United States Congress from 1972 to 1995 before being
defunded by Congress in 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. Since the OTA
is no longer in existence, the Government Accountability Office (GAO)
has tried to fill the gap by establishing a technology assessment unit,
but it is not on par with the OTA. The OTA would be an independent,
non-partisan entity available to members of Congress to help explain to
them complex scientific issues. The amendment proposed $2.5M for OTA, a
tiny amount of money for a program with a potentially large.
Unfortunately, the amendment was defeated by the House of Representatives by a vote of 176-235, with voting mostly falling along party lines.