WASHINGTON (Jan. 24, 2018) –  Recent decades have brought astonishing breakthroughs in technology, especially in the fields of artificial intelligence, autonomous transportation, advanced manufacturing and health technology. And while this innovation revolution is hardly over, Congress’ capacity to understand these developments has hardly begun. In a new policy paper, R Street Institute Vice President of Policy, Kevin Kosar, and Director of Technology and Innovation Policy, Zach Graves, argue that the only way Congress can strengthen its ability to understand and engage in current technological debates is to revive the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA).

“The OTA was enacted by Congress in 1972 with a mission to provide lawmakers with the expertise to confront an expanding field of technological challenges,” notes Kosar. “In operation for over two decades, the OTA produced nearly 750 assessments, background papers and other research products. Its highly credentialed civil servants also were available to advise committees and individual legislators. The loss of this capability is becoming rapidly evident as we find the First Branch less prepared than ever to shape a regulatory environment that has hitherto allowed America to lead the world in technological innovation.”

Kosar and Graves examine the history and politics of the OTA and its former impact, present arguments for and against its revival, and evaluate its political viability to argue that in order to build the capacity to successfully meet the next wave of technology policy debates, Congress needs to invest in the kind of in-house expertise and in-depth research functions formerly provided by the Office of Technology Assessment.

“Let me be blunt here: Failing to augment Congress’ technological expertise ensures that the preferences of executive branch agencies and private interests hold the greatest sway in technology policy decisions, to the detriment of the public interest,” writes Graves. “To address this, Congress needs to bring back its nerds. And fast.”