The Assessment Process
OTA was governed by the congressional Technology Assessment Board (TAB). TAB was made up of six Senators and six Representatives with equal representation from each party. The chairmanship and vice chairmanship alternated between the Senate and House in succeeding Congresses. The Technology Assessment Board appointed OTA's Director for a six-year term. An advisory council of 10 eminent citizens from industry, academia, and elsewhere outside the federal government were appointed by the TAB to advise the Agency. The Comptroller General of the United States and the Director of the Congressional Research Service served as statutory members.
Preparing the Reports
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.
OTA staff reviewed requests to determine whether resources were available, whether OTA could effectively provide the information, and whether interest was broad and bipartisan. The OTA Director submitted proposals to the Technology Assessment Board, which made the final decision on whether to proceed. The TAB reviewed all major studies prior to release. The chart below illustrates the major steps in the assessment process:
|The research and writing of the assessments was conducted by the OTA staff of
about 200, of which two-thirds were the 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. For specific
information or analysis, OTA also contracted with key individuals or
organizations. Contractors analyzed data, conducted case studies, and
expertise to complement staff capability.
OTA worked to ensure that the views of the public were fairly reflected in its assessments. The Agency assembled an advisory panel of stakeholders and experts for each major study to ensure that reports were objective, fair, and authoritative. These panels met two or three times during a study. They helped to shape studies by suggesting alternative approaches, reviewing documents, and critiquing reports at the final stages. No attempt was made to develop consensus among panel members; in fact, a wide diversity of views was sought. OTA retained full responsibility for the content and conclusions of each report. In all, nearly 5000 outside panelists and workshop participants came to OTA annually to help OTA in its work.
In addition to the advisory panel, many people assisted with the studies by participating in technical workshops, providing information, reviewing documents, or just talking with OTA staff. These interactions helped OTA to identify and take into account contrasts between the perspectives of technically trained and lay citizens; the involvement of people with differing backgrounds and interests greatly strengthened OTA work.
Release of Reports
Each assessment was subjected to an extensive formal review conducted by OTA staff and outside experts. After s completed assessment was approved by the Director, copies of the formal report were sent to the Technology Assessment Board for its review and authorization for release. Approved reports were forwarded to the requesting committee or committees, summaries were sent to all Members of Congress, and then the report was released to the public. OTA assessments were published by the Government Printing Office and were frequently reprinted by commercial publishers.
OTA worked with the other congressional support agenciesthe Congressional Budget Office, the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress, and the General Accounting Officein an interagency Research Notification System. Its purpose was to coordinate activities and exchange information to avoid duplication of effort. Representatives of each organization met regularly, and biweekly status reports were published in a central directory of congressional research activity. Similarly, OTA stayed in touch with the published work and current activities of analysts and researchers in Federal executive and legislative branch agencies and throughout the country.
Structure of the Agency
The Office of Technology Assessment was reorganized periodically as it grew and as the types of technology expertise relevant to public policy evolved. By 1995, OTA was organized into two main analytical divisions, each comprised of three research programs, along with an Office of Congressional and Public Affairs.
Within the Industry, Commerce, and International Security Division, the Energy, Transportation, and Infrastructure Program was responsible for examining the role of technology in extracting, producing, and using energy resources; in designing, operating, and improving transportation systems; and in planning, constructing, and maintaining infrastructure. It addressed the impacts of these technologies and the factors that affect their ability to support commerce and other societal goals. Its work also included applications of materials to energy, transportation, and infrastructure systems, including the development of natural and manufactured material resources through extraction, processing, use, and recycling or waste management.
The Industry, Telecommunications, and Commerce Program analyzed the relationships between technology and international industrial competitiveness, telecommunications and computing technologies, international trade and economic development, industrial productivity, and related topics. It considered the effects of technological change on jobs and training, and analyzed the changing role of electronic technologies in the nation's industrial, commercial, and governmental institutions and the influence of related regulations and policies.
The International Security and Space Program focused on implications of technology and technological change on national defense issues and on issues of international stability, arms control, arms proliferation, terrorism, and alliance relations. It addressed a broad range of issues including space transportation, earth observation, and international cooperation and competition in the exploration, use, and commercialization of space.
The second major OTA analytical division was the Health, Education, and Environment Division. Within it, the Education and Human Resources Program critically examined a wide variety of technologies for learning. It also analyzed science-grounded human resource topics, including the costs, availability, effectiveness, and impacts of technologies in areas such as long-term care, services and housing for people with disabilities, prevention of drug abuse, and issues of crime and violence.
The Environment Program addressed areas including the use and conservation of renewable resources; pollution prevention, control, and remediation; and environmental health and risk management. Its assessments included topics such as agriculture, management of public lands, biological diversity, risk assessment methods and policy, air and water pollution, management of solid, hazardous, and nuclear wastes, and the effects of weather and climate change.
The Health Program assessed specific clinical and general health care technologies as well as broader issues of health policy related to or with implications for technology. It also analyzed applications of the biological and behavioral sciences, including biotechnology, human molecular genetics, neurological sciences, and health-related behaviors. The Health Program was also responsible for OTA's statutory methodology oversight responsibilities regarding Vietnam veterans health studies.