Office of Technology Assessment: History, Implementation, and Participatory Critique
Technology in Society (2015), vol. 42, p. 9-20
25 Pages Posted: 27 Jan 2015 Last revised: 12 Mar 2015
Date Written: January 1, 2015
The Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), which was created by the Technology Assignment Act of 1972, was - and still remains even after its abolishment in 1995 - a unique congressional agency. OTA provided members of Congress with their own means of understanding and evaluating complex science and technology matters - of which there are no shortages. It spurred an entire literature of academic research both about OTA and the idea of technology assessment more generally. Understanding the legislative history and implementation of the Technology Assessment Act is crucial not just for scholarship, though. OTA was a blueprint for institutionalizing politically accountable technology assessment. Even as technologies advance at rapid rates, OTA still offers valuable lessons that scholars and policy-makers alike ought to glean. This paper places OTA in a contemporary context of (institutionalized) technology assessment. It contributes to a better understanding of OTA’s origins by tracing its lineage to a set of federal reports beginning in 1929. It then analyzes OTA’s response to pragmatic implementation questions of how to strike a balance between speed, depth, scope, and temporal focus. Lastly, it uses a public values framework to critique OTA’s failure to adequately incorporate participatory elements into its processes.
Keywords: Office of Technology Assessment, public engagement, participation, science and technology policy
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