Congress is tasked with finding legislative solutions to some of our greatest societal challenges, many of which are greatly impacted by new and emerging technologies. Yet, with the rapid rate of technological innovation and change, creating timely, forward looking public policy has never been more challenging. Congress needs a dedicated, independent technology research and assessment office — one that can answer key questions around technology’s impact on society, and do so at the pace of technological change.
A modern Technology Assessment Office (TAO) can be an invaluable resource for Congress by acting as a conduit for technical expertise to flow between its offices, federal agencies, and external stakeholders. Not simply a resurrection of the old Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), a TAO needs to be accessible, diverse, and agile in order to provide non-partisan foresight into policy-relevant technology issues that industry or academia may either consider a low priority or may have vested interest in providing biased information.
The reality is that Congressional members and staff lack their own cadre of technical experts who can conduct independent research, coordinate existing federal agency research efforts, and leverage the expertise of external stakeholders. A TAO should be able to do all of that in service of its mission to respond to requests in a timely fashion that allows the information to be used in the same Congressional session. Without that support, Congress stands no chance of addressing its pacing problem and its policymaking efforts will fall further behind new technological changes.
That is why CDT endorses HR 4426: OTA Improvement & Enhancement Act sponsored by Reps. Mark Takano (D-CA) and Bill Foster (D-IL) and its companion bill S. 2509: Office of Technology Assessment Improvement and Enhancement Act sponsored by Sens. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Thom Tillis (R-NC). The creation of the Congressional Office of Technology would offer members and staff the support they need to tackle some of the most pressing issues of today such as privacy, security, and competition. Modern technology is the foundation of so many industries, and is interwoven into the daily lives of nearly every American. Congress needs an unbiased source of multi-disciplinary, authoritative analyses of the technologies that are influencing a variety of policy debates. Let’s hope Congress can work together to pass these common sense bills and help equip policymakers to make informed decisions around that technologies that touch billions of users each day.