Pessimistic Outlook for Office of Technology Assessment

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Publication date: 
1 June 1995
Number: 
74

Hopes that Senator Connie Mack (R-Florida), chairman of the Senate
Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, has had a
change of heart about abolishing the Office of Technology
Assessment (OTA) seem to be dwindling.  On May 26, Mack held a
hearing on OTA and the General Accounting Office (GAO), and he gave
little indication that he is straying from Republican plans to
eliminate this congressional support agency.

The Office of Technology Assessment has a $22 million budget, a
fraction of the current $2.4 billion legislative branch
appropriation.  Senate leaders want to cut the legislative budget
by $200 million in FY 1996, for a total savings of $1.4 billion
between FY 1996-2002.  The Senate Budget Resolution recommends a
25% cut in GAO's budget, and a reduction in Senate committee staff
by 15%.  The resolution also calls for a 25% spending reduction for
the Executive Office of the President.  House leaders are proposing
similar cuts.

Mack received testimony from three senators supportive of OTA --
Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), and Edward Kennedy
(D-Massachusetts.)  Mack responded by characterizing OTA's work in
favorable terms.  In response to unvoiced concerns that he finds
fault with OTA's work, he said, "that is not where I am coming
from."

Mack's concerns instead centered on two points.  The first was that
some of OTA's research is performed elsewhere.  He also criticized
OTA for doing research on topics that did not have a strictly
technological orientation.  This criticism was echoed by Senator
Robert Bennett (R-Utah.) 

OTA Director Roger C. Herdman countered these criticisms, but he is
in a difficult position as his agency works directly for, and is
controlled by, Congress.  OTA reports are substantially different
from that done by GAO, the Congressional Research Service, Congress
and the Executive Branch, or other interests.  In 1994, OTA
produced 51 reports, and testified 38 times before congressional
committees.  Further information about OTA can be found on its
Homepage at http://www.ota.gov  See FYI #75 regarding a recent OTA
report.

The Washington Post reports that after the hearing, Mack said, "I
wouldn't go that far" when asked if OTA would be eliminated.  At
the same time, he said that none of the testimony had changed his
mind, adding, "They're arguments that I've heard before."

If there is any ray of hope, it may lie along the lines of the
strategy being employed by GAO.  This agency, with a current budget
of $449 million, is looking at a 25% budget reduction in FY 1996.
GAO Director Charles Bowsher did not dispute this cut, but rather
its timing, asking for two years to make this reduction.  This
approach appeared to have Mack's support.  OTA Director Herdman
indicated his willingness to accept a budget cut, and institute
other economies.  Whether this will be enough to win over Mack, and
his House counterpart, Rep. Ron Packard (R-California), is yet to
be seen.

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