Status Report

AIP FYI #116: House Rejects Rep. Holt Amendment to Establish OTA-Capability

By SpaceRef Editor
August 31, 2004
Filed under ,

During last month’s consideration of the FY 2005 Legislative Branch
Appropriations Bill, Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) was unsuccessful in his
attempt to increase the scientific analytical staff available to
Members of Congress. Holt’s amendment, designed to replace some of
the capabilities that were lost when the Office of Technology
Assessment was closed in 1995, was defeated by a vote of 115-252

The Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) was one of the few
in-house analytical agencies available to Members of Congress.
(Other units are the Library of Congress’s Congressional Research
Service, the General Accountability Office, and the Congressional
Budget Office.) OTA produced high-quality reports on a wide range
of technology-related issues that were marked by their
evenhandedness, depth, and high quality. After Republicans took
control of both the House and Senate in 1995, they sought to reduce
what they deemed unnecessary spending, and began by looking at their
own operations. Following considerable debate in both chambers, the
Office of Technology Assessment was defunded.

Since OTA’s closure there has been discussion about reviving it in
either its original or a modified form. Holt introduced legislation
in 2001 to reestablish OTA which was cosponsored by 87
representatives from both parties. His bill was referred to the
House Science Committee, but was never given a hearing or floor

Holt’s latest attempt to revive the capability of the OTA came
during House consideration of the FY 2005 Legislative Branch
appropriations bill. This bill provides funding for all
congressional operations. Holt changed his legislative strategy by
proposing to increase funding for the General Accountability Office
(GAO) (formerly the General Accounting Office) by $30 million,
offsetting this increase through a reduction in the budget for the
Architect of the Capitol’s administration account and the Government
Printing Office. (The Architect of the Capitol is responsible for
the maintenance, operation, development and preservation of a large
number of buildings on Capitol Hill.)

When explaining his amendment to his colleagues, Holt said the $30
million for GAO would be used for “the development of Scientific and
Technology Assessment. This is something that is vital to us here in
Congress. It would meet a bipartisan need of Congress to receive
more objective, expert and timely advice on the scientific and
technological aspects of the issues before us. My amendment would
avoid creating any new government agency or bureaucracy, but it
would provide Congress with reputable and impartial timely advice
and analysis of emerging scientific and technological issues.”

He continued, “This is something that was, until 10 years ago,
offered by an in-house agency. That is no longer available to us,
but the GAO has begun on a pilot basis assuming some of this need
and providing us with scientific and technological assessment. Not
to have that today is hampering us in doing our work. So this
certainly should be added to the appropriation.”

Speaking in support of Holt’s amendment was Rep. Jim McDermott
(D-WA) who told his colleagues, “A decision was made in 1994 to
disband that, and we have since that point been really operating
more on ideology I think sometimes than on real scientific bases. .
.. . We appropriate billions of dollars on issues like treatment of
AIDS and what are appropriate kinds of energy questions, and we have
no knowledge except for the prejudices of one or another Member
about what it is. It is very helpful to have a nonpartisan group to
whom we can hand that problem to and say look, at this issue, tell
us where we can make the best decisions.” Also speaking for the
Holt amendment was Rep. C.A. Ruppersberger (D-MD.)

Only one representative spoke against the Holt amendment. Rep.
Jack Kingston (R-GA) is the chairman of the Legislative Branch
appropriations subcommittee. He outlined his opposition, beginning
with “some background in terms of the Office of Technology
Assessment. In 1995 on a bipartisan level, we eliminated it, and the
belief at that time was that there were other committees that we
could turn to to get technology studies and technology assessment.
Some of these, for example, are the National Academy of Sciences,
the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine, and
the National Research Council. All of them have hundreds of people
who are technically educated. And then in addition to that, there
are 3,273 people at the General Accounting Office and 729 at the
Congressional Research Service. We have not suffered because of the
loss of technology assessment. It is perhaps true that we could
rearrange some of the food on the plate and make sure that it does
not get shuffled to the back burner; but if my colleagues think
about it, Mr. Chairman, we actually have thousands of people out
there doing studies, and we just need to make sure that this does
not fall through the cracks. As a result of eliminating the Office
of Technology Assessment, we have saved $274 million, which is
serious money in tight budget times, and that is money that we can
put into many other worthy causes; and, of course, that is what the
debate is all about.” Kingston also described the impacts that
shifting money out of the Architect’s office and printing office
would have on their operations.

Holt’s amendment was rejected by a vote of 115 yes to 252 no. The
roll call vote may be viewed at

Richard M. Jones

Media and Government Relations Division

The American Institute of Physics

(301) 209-3094

SpaceRef staff editor.