On the Edge: Proposal to Eliminate Office of Technology Assessment

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Publication date: 
24 March 1995
Number: 
45

There are strong indications that the Office of Technology
Assessment (OTA) may be eliminated.  Senator Connie Mack
(R-Florida), chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the
Legislative Branch, said he intends to terminate funding in FY 1996
for this congressional agency. 

OTA is a nonpartisan analytical support agency which has served
Congress since the early 1970s.  Its FY 1995 budget is $21.97
million, with 190 employees.  OTA produces around 50 publications
every year, as well as testifying frequently before Congress.  OTA
is overseen by a governing board of six representatives and six
senators, with equal representation by each party.

Various reasons are given for the elimination of OTA.
Congressional leaders want to cut $200 million from the $2.4
billion legislative budget.  Some observers contend OTA's work
could be performed by other congressional support agencies, such as
the Congressional Research Service or the General Accounting
Office.  Other motives are suggested: a February 13 article by
Congressional Quarterly said OTA appeared to be "the sacrificial
lamb of the legislative branch." Rep. Amo Houghton (R-New York), a
strong supporter of OTA and long-time member of the OTA Board,
cited what he characterized as a "popular reason" in congressional
testimony last month: "we are in a `scorch and burn' mode.  We can
no longer afford OTA."

House Science Committee Chairman Robert Walker (R-Pennsylvania)
commented on this issue on March 8: "I think the Office of
Technology Assessment is in real trouble with the Appropriations
Committees.  I mean, it started in the Senate, when the Senate made
it pretty clear that they were not for it.  And my understanding,
from talking to the appropriators, is that it probably will not
survive the next cut, in terms of being reformulated for next
year."  Walker said OTA has "done a pretty decent job in some
areas, in long-term studies." He was critical of the long time it
takes for reports to be completed, something which OTA is
addressing.

The House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee, chaired
by Rep. Ron Packard (R-California), has had its appropriations
hearing on OTA, as well as an earlier joint hearing with its Senate
counterpart.  Senate Chairman Mack will probably hold an
appropriations hearing on the OTA budget in May.

In addition to Mack and Packard, Rep. Bob Livingston (R-Louisiana)
and Senator Mark Hatfield (R-Oregon), the chairmen of the full
appropriations committees, will have a major say in OTA's future.
Only Mack's position is known; the other members have not publicly
stated their views.  In all likelihood, they will be influenced by
their House and Senate colleagues, who respond to the views of
their constituents.  Describing the outlook, the above cited
Congressional Quarterly article stated, "OTA has no large,
protective constituency, so it's an easy kill." 

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