Office of Technology Assessment

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The Congressional Office of Technology Assessment was created in 1972 by the "Technology Assessment Act of 1972".[1] Its creation empowered the Congress to join debate with the White House over several technological issues during the Nixon presidency: "...the U.S. investment in supersonic transport (SST), the antiballistic missile system, and the Trans-Alaska pipeline."[2] The OTA was forced to cease operations in September of 1995 when the Republican majority in Congress, led by Newt Gingrich, succeeded in their stated desire to eliminate its funding.


The Agency

According to the Technology Assessment Act, the OTA was created to provide Congress with an "effective means for securing competent, unbiased information concerning the physical, biological, economic, social, and political effects of such applications; and [to] utilize this information, whenever appropriate, as one factor in the legislative assessment of matters pending before the Congress...."[3]

Research and the writing of reports was completed largely by the OTA staff of some 200 people, of which about two-thirds were professional research staff. "Among the research staff, 88% had advanced degrees, 58% with PhD's, primarily in the physical, life, and social sciences, economics, and engineering. About 40% of the research staff were temporary appointments of professionals recruited specifically to staff ongoing assessments."[4]

The OTA was governed by a Technology Assessment Board (TAB)comprising six Senators and six Representatives, even divided between the two major parties. The TAB appointed a director of the OTA with a term of six years.

The bulk of OTA's work centered on comprehensive assessments that took one to two years to complete. OTA undertook assessments at the request of the Chairman of any congressional committee. The Chairman could request the work personally, on behalf of a ranking minority member, or on behalf of a majority of committee members. The Technology Assessment Board could also request work, as could the Director. In practice, most studies were requested by the Chairman and the Ranking Member of a Committee, and many were supported by more than one committee.[5]


  • Emilio Q. Daddario (1972 -- 1977)
  • Russell Peterson (1978)
  • Jack Gibbons (1979 -- 1992)
  • Roger C. Herdman (1993 -- 1995)



OTA gradually became recognized worldwide as the top institution of its kind. Representatives from about one-third of the world's nations visited OTA one or more times to learn how OTA worked; how it became so valuable to Congress and the American people; and how these foreign nations might develop their own "OTA's." Austria, Denmark, the European Community, France, Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Sweden have copied or adapted the OTA style. Similar organizations are being discussed or formed in Hungary, Japan, Mexico, the People's Republic of China, Russia, Switzerland, and Taiwan.[6]


  1. ^  "Office of Technology Assessment Act", The OTA Legacy, accessed 5 May 2006.
  2. ^  Peter Blair, "Technology Assessment: Current Trends and the Myth of a Formula", remarks at the First Meeting of the International Association of Technology Assessment and Forecasting Institutions May 2, 1994, Bergen, Norway, reproduced at The OTA Legacy.
  3. ^  "Office of Technology Assessment Act", reproduced at The OTA Legacy
  4. ^  "The Assessment Process", The OTA Legacy, undated, accessed 5 May 2006.
  5. ^  ibid.
  6. ^  Representative Amo Houghton (R-NY), "In Memoriam: The Office of Technology Assessment, 1972-95", Congressional Record, Extension of Remarks - September 28, 1995, Page E1868-1870, reproduced at The OTA Legacy.


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