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Between the Scientist and the Lawmaker: The U.S. Office of Technology Assessment

Deborah Mongeau (Government publications librarian, University Library, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, Rhode Island)
Pamela Stoddard (Assistant government publications librarian, University Library, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, Rhode Island)

Reference Services Review

ISSN: 0090-7324

Article publication date: 1 February 1992

Abstract

As the 1960s drew to a close, Congress found itself grappling with an increasing array of complex technological issues that it was ill equipped to analyze and that could be the cause of costly blunders if acted upon incorrectly. To alleviate this situation, the U.S. Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) was created in 1972 under Public Law 92–484 in order to advise Congress on issues in science and technology so that relevant information would be available when pertinent legislation was being developed. Under the leadership of its director John Gibbons, OTA has earned the distinction of providing Congress, that most political of bodies, with timely and objective information without becoming mired in political skirmishes. Despite this distinction, OTA is one of the smallest government agencies, with a budget of twenty million dollars and a staff of 140. Its organization is remarkable for its simplicity. A bipartisan congressional Technology Assessment Board governs the agency overall but appoints the director who has full responsibility for running it. The nine agency divisions are organized according to scientific disciplines and report to the director with little or no intervening bureaucracy. Outside expert advice is available from the Technology Assessment Advisory Council. The result is an organization that is equally balanced politically and scientifically, that is streamlined and efficient, and that allows input from its governing members. This structure also allows great flexibility in the research and production of assessment reports. To do an assessment, OTA deploys its experts to go out and gather the information needed on the wide‐ranging topics it has been commissioned to research. The topics are chosen according to the need and interest of both houses and both political parties. Outside experts are sometimes called upon to do research but OTA exercises the final responsibility over their reports. Factual conclusions and options are presented but opinions are never given. The manner in which the information is acted upon is always left to Congress, a major reason for OTA's success.

Citation

Mongeau, D. and Stoddard, P. (1992), "Between the Scientist and the Lawmaker: The U.S. Office of Technology Assessment", Reference Services Review, Vol. 20 No. 2, pp. 15-40. https://doi.org/10.1108/eb049151

Publisher

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MCB UP Ltd

Copyright © 1992, MCB UP Limited