On December 5, the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology (SST) held a hearing to discuss options in improving the advice-giving infrastructure available to Members of Congress on science and technology issues. Members discussed recommendations from a recent National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) report on Science and Technology Policy Assessment as well as the possibility of reinstating the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), which was dismantled in 1995. Witnesses present at the hearing included Director of Civil-Military Programs at the Stennis Center for Public Service Michael McCord, Director of the Technology and Public Purpose Project in the Harvard Kennedy School of Government Laura Manley, Chief Scientist and Managing Director of Science, Technology Assessment and Analytics in the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) Dr. Tim Persons, and Executive Director of the Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences at the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine Dr. Peter Blair.
Committee Members questioned the witnesses on the findings of the NAPA report, the merits of reinstating OTA, technology assessment activities occurring at GAO, and other issues. While Members of both parties expressed interest in strengthening the quality of knowledge and tools available to Congress, the two parties disagreed on the method. Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and other Democrats supported a multi-lateral approach including reinstating and refunding OTA while Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) and other Republicans favored a consolidation of technology assessment into GAO along with other recommendations listed in the NAPA report.
The House Legislative Branch Appropriations report for FY 2020 includes $6 million for the re-establishment of OTA. However, the Senate version does not include this funding which makes the reinstatement of OTA unlikely to become law. A recording of the hearing and a statement from Chairwoman Johnson can be found on the SST website and the full NAPA report can be found on the NAPA website.