Office of Technology Assessment Survives First Vote

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Publication date: 
27 June 1995
Number: 
88

The Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) is still alive following
very contentious action on the House floor last week.  The outlook
for this congressional support agency remains very tentative, with
congressional leaders still pledging to eliminate it in the final
version of the appropriations bill.

OTA funding is contained in the Legislative Branch Appropriations
bill, which totals $1.7 billion in the House version of this
legislation.  When this bill, H.R. 1854, was brought to the House
floor last week it did not include OTA funding (the current budget
is $22 million.)  In opening remarks, Legislative Branch
Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Ron Packard (R-CA) stated, "we
believe this bill is a significant step in the way of not only
balancing the budget but of showing the American people that we can
downsize, that we can right size our budget, but also that we can
modernize the Congress and make it more effective, more
efficient...."

A number of Republican and Democratic members rose in defense of
OTA.  Rep. Vic Fazio (D-CA), ranking Minority Member on the
subcommittee, criticized the majority by saying that "it proposes
eliminating the one agency that helps us sort out the fact from
fiction over increasingly technical and complex policy questions."
Fazio pointed out that total spending in this bill was $26 million
under its 602(b) allocation, or spending limit.  Rep. Curt Weldon
(R-PA) stated, "it is extremely important that we not take this
shortsighted approach to eliminate what amounts to approximately a
$22 million item...."  Weldon is chairman of the House Subcommittee
on Military Research and Development, and a senior member of the
House Science Committee.

What should have been a series of ordinary roll call votes on the
question of OTA funding was anything but routine.  Fazio offered an
amendment in support of OTA.  Rep. Amo Houghton (R-NY) offered an
amendment to the Fazio amendment to reduce OTA's FY 1996 budget to
$15 million, and make it a part of the Congressional Research
Service of the Library of Congress.  The House then voted on
whether Fazio's amendment should be changed as suggested by
Houghton.  It agreed to do so by a vote of 228 to 201.

The House then voted on changing H.R. 1854 by this amendment.  This
vote went against the agency, members opposing by 213-214 the $15
million in OTA funding.  Democrats charged that the House
Republican leadership ignored two of their members who were
attempting to vote.  The House floor erupted into controversy, with
House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) later saying, "I have
been here now 19 years, and I have not in my experience seen the
depth of feeling that occurred on this particular issue
because...the thing that we all hold most dear is our ability to
represent over 500,000 people...."

The next day, House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) addressed the
House saying, "The disposition of the vote on the Fazio amendment
was entirely appropriate and conducted within the proper
parliamentary procedure of this Chamber.  Having said that, it is
also true that many Members, most especially Members on this side
of the aisle who had supported the Houghton language earlier, felt
that their victory had been snatched from them."  House leaders
agreed to vacate the contested vote from the night before.  The
House then voted 220 to 204 for the $15 million in OTA funding.

OTA's future is far from settled.  This legislation now moves to
the Senate, where the Senate Republican Conference is on record in
favor of OTA's elimination.  The Secretary of this conference is
Senator Connie Mack (R-FL), who is also chairman of the Senate
Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee.  Mack has been
clear in his intention to abolish OTA.

A key vote will occur on the Senate floor when it considers this
legislation.  If the full Senate votes in support of OTA, the
agency will go into the all-important conference committee in a
much stronger position.  Tradition holds that House and Senate
conferees attempt to resolve differences in the two versions of a
bill by striking middle ground. 

The conference committee, when all is said and done, will probably
determine OTA's fate.  These committees write the final version of
a bill, and although it must return for a vote in each chamber, it
will be an up or down vote.  It is quite unusual to defeat a
conference report.  Packard has already said, "I'm going to fight
to shut it down in conference."  The degree of support in the
Senate for OTA will determine how large a fight there will be to
eliminate it.

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