Here's A Way To Boost Congress' Tech Savvy

Orhan Cam/

A think tank wants Congress to bring back a tech research office it scrapped in 1995.

Congress should legislate on technology like it’s 1995, according to a policy paper from a right-leaning think tank released Wednesday.

Specifically, Congress should reinstate the Office of Technology Assessment, an internal research organization that advised congressional committees on thorny questions about emerging technology and science, according to the paper from the R Street Institute, which describes itself as non-partisan but also committed to open markets.

The Office of Technology Assessment, which launched in 1972 and was shuttered in 1995, could help Congress tackle complicated technology and cybersecurity issues, such as end-to-end consumer encryption and online copyright protections.

In both those cases, some members of Congress suggested legislative changes based on the interests of industry or law enforcement only to face a wave of blowback from consumers and tech advocates.

“It does not take much effort to find embarrassing knowledge gaps among our lawmakers,” the authors note.

The renewed office could also help with issues such as regulating autonomous vehicles and ride-sharing apps as well as security concerns related to the internet of things, the authors said.

The office’s shuttering was driven partly by Republicans’ impression that the office was biased against Republican initiatives, including President Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” missile defense program, the paper said.

It was finally shuttered as part of House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s push to cut unnecessary government spending as part of the Republican House’s “Contract with America.”

There have been frequent calls to reinstate the office from technology and transparency groups since then.

While most congressional efforts to reinstate the office have been led by Democrats, the office also has Republican supporters, including House Oversight Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah., Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, and Science Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, who all joined a 2015 letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan urging the office’s return, the paper states.

Congress’ main research group, the Congressional Research Service, is stretched too thin and lacks the deep technical expertise necessary to fill in the gaps left by the technology office’s shuttering, the paper argues.