Open Markets Institute: It’s Time for Congress to Govern Again
November 7, 2018
Washington DC– In a time of great challenges from big data to climate change, Congress needs to restore its own ability to govern America effectively. But this means Congress must actually understand the problems that America faces, and how to fix them.
To this end, the new Congress should recreate the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA). The OTA was a Congressional think tank that hired some of best experts in America to study complex technology and scientific problems, and gave Congress “competent, unbiased information concerning the physical, biological, economic, social, and political effects of such applications.” The OTA was created in 1972, and shut down in 1995 by Newt Gingrich.
“If Congress is to do its job, and counterbalance the executive, it has to know what it’s talking about,” said Barry Lynn, executive director of the Open Markets Institute. “This is especially true in today’s era of platform monopoly and AI. A new Office of Technology Assessment would help members from both parties to understand and address some of the most pressing challenges in our society.”
Congressman Bill Foster (D-IL) and Congressman Mark Takano (D-CA) introduced a resolution earlier this year calling for funding a new OTA, and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced its companion in the Senate.
Other legislative support agencies, such as the Government Accountability Office, the Congressional Budget Office, and the Congressional Research Service, also provide strong research support to Congress and should also be funded more robustly. But the OTA was specifically designed to perform in-depth, technical, nonpartisan, studies of new technologies and their applications.
A new OTA could, for instance, provide essential research to better inform political discussions of how to address dire, but not insurmountable, issues like climate change, the misuse of data, the vulnerability of food systems, the risk of devastating pandemics, financial system fragility, and more.
As Celia Wexler of the Center for Science and Democracy explained in The New York Times in May 2015, ”OTA produced more than 700 studies, on topics ranging from Alzheimer’s to acid rain. An OTA study was balanced, including both pros and cons of policy options, and members on opposite sides of an issue often cited the same OTA report to make their case.”
Establishing an Office of Technology Assessment will benefit Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike, by provide deep studies of some of the most cutting edge developments in sciences and engineering.