A bipartisan group of senators and representatives are looking to address gaps in Congress’ technology expertise by bringing back the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) and making it responsive to member needs, according to a Sept. 18 press release.

OTA operated from 1972 to 1995 to provide to members of Congress and their staffs objective and authoritative analysis of complex scientific and technical issues, and its absence since the mid-90s has drawn complaints from some lawmakers particularly as technology has become more influential in the U.S. culture and economy.

The new bill – the Office of Technology Assessment Improvement and Enhancement Act – aims to make sure that the revived OTA would be responsive and expeditious, would allow any member to request a technology assessment, and also would create a rotator program. The bill would require OTA to avoid any overlap with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and its work on technology.

The bill does not provide funding for OTA, which is currently zeroed out, but the House’s Legislative Brach appropriations bill does provide funding to restore the office’s activities. The reforms would work in concert with additional funding for the office to “[make] it more accessible and responsive to Members’ needs,” the press release states.

The bill is backed by Sens. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., in the Senate, and by Reps. Mark Takano, D-Calif., and Bill Foster, D-Ill., in the House. This isn’t the first time Takano and Foster have been involved in the issue – they introduced similar legislation in 2018, but without a Republican cosponsor.

“An improved OTA – the Congressional Office of Technology – would provide Members of Congress with the support they need to be effective legislators; especially as emerging technologies are affecting every aspect of our daily lives,” said Rep. Takano.

“This bicameral, bipartisan legislation will give Congress the tools, resources, and policy expertise it needs to address the most pressing technological issues facing our country,” said Sen. Tillis.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.