Action Shifts to Conference Committee
By a vote of 54 to 45 last night, the Senate refused to back a plan
which would have retained the functions of the Office of Technology
Assessment. Coming during consideration of H.R. 1854, the
Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill for FY 1996, this action now
sets the stage for a critical conference committee meeting.
The original House version of this bill would have terminated this
congressional support agency. Following a near revolt by House
Democrats last month over floor procedures, the House agreed by a
vote of 220-204 to amend H.R. 1854 by shifting OTA functions to the
Library of Congress (see FYI #88.)
On Tuesday of this week, the Senate Appropriations Committee
marked-up its version of H.R. 1854 which, among many other
provisions, required OTA's termination. This $2.2 billion spending
bill is $200 million less than current year spending.
During Senate floor consideration yesterday, Senator Hollings
(D-SC), Hatch (R-UT), Stevens (R-AK), Robb (D-VA), Lieberman
(D-CT), and Kennedy (D-MA) proposed an amendment preserving OTA
functions. It provided a $15 million appropriation for OTA, with
the proviso that the Librarian of Congress develop a plan to
consolidate OTA, the General Accounting Office, and the Government
Printing Office into an Office of Congressional Services. This
office would have been within the Library of Congress, and was to
have been established by 2002.
After considerable debate, the Senate voted against the Hollings
amendment by a vote of 54 to 45. Senators belonging to the
Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee voting against the
Hollings amendment were: Chairman Mack (Florida) and Bennett
(R-Utah). Committee members voting for the Hollings amendment were
Jeffords (R-Vermont), Mikulski (D-Maryland), and Murray
(Washington.) Senate Majority Leader Dole (R-Kansas) voted against
The next step for this bill is a conference committee which will be
appointed to resolve differences in the two versions of H.R. 1854.
This conference committee will include most, if not all, of the
members of both the House and Senate Legislative Branch
Appropriations Subcommittees. How OTA will fare in this conference
committee is anyone's guess as this point. On the one hand, the
House is on record as providing $15 million for OTA, although the
220-204 vote was not overwhelming. On the other hand, the 54 to 45
Senate vote in favor of termination was by a somewhat wider
percentage margin. All by one of the Republican conferees
participating in this conference seem opposed to the retention of
OTA (assuming that all Members participate, based on their floor
Whatever the outcome of this conference, their compromise report
language is likely to become law. When the final version of H.R.
1854 returns to the House and Senate, it will be strictly an
up-or-down vote. While theoretically the conference report could
be defeated, it would be unlikely to occur over OTA. And President
Clinton, who will be facing the prospect of many tough vetoes of
appropriations bills, will probably not confront Congress about how
it conducts its own business.
The challenge for proponents of the Office of Technology Assessment
is to ensure that constituents inform Members of Congress of their
support for OTA and its functions. Without significant public
support for OTA raising its visibility, this $15 million line item
in the $2.2 billion bill could fall by the wayside.