House and Senate appropriators released the Conference Report and Joint Explanatory Statement today for H.R. 5895, a minibus package containing the legislative appropriations bill. This clarifies language on the administration of a study on reviving Congress’s technology assessment office to be carried out by NAPA. It also echoes Senate language that would improve and expand GAO’s technology assessment program.
The JES language on technology assessment:
Technology Assessment Study: The Committees have heard testimony on, and received dozens of requests advocating for restoring funding to the Office of Technology Assessment, and more generally on how Congress equips itself with the deep technical advice necessary to understand and tackle the growing number of science and technology policy challenges facing our country. The conferees direct the Congressional Research Service (CRS) to engage with the National Academy of Public Administration or a similar external entity to produce a report detailing the current resources available to Members of Congress within the Legislative Branch regarding science and technology policy, including the GAO. This study should also assess the potential need within the Legislative Branch to create a separate entity charged with the mission of providing nonpartisan advice on issues of science and technology. Furthermore, the study should also address if the creation of such entity duplicates services already available to Members of Congress. CRS should work with the Committees in developing the parameters of the study and once complete, the study should be made available to relevant oversight Committees.
Technology Assessment: There is general support in Congress to bolster capacity of and enhance access to quality, independent science and technological expertise. Since 2002, GAO has provided direct support to Congress in the area of technology assessment through objective, rigorous, and timely assessments of emerging science and technologies. The Center for Science, Technology, and Engineering (CSTE) within GAO has developed such a capacity, providing wide-ranging technical expertise across all of GA O's areas of work. However, because the scope of technological complexities continues to grow significantly, the conferees seek opportunities to expand technology assessment capacity within the Legislative Branch. The conferees encourage GAO to reorganize its technology and science function by creating a new more prominent office within GAO. GAO is directed to provide the Committees a detailed plan and timeline describing how this new office can expand and enhance GA O's capabilities in scientific and technological assessments. This plan should be developed in consultation with internal stakeholders of the Legislative Branch such as congressional staff and Members of Congress in addition to external stakeholders, including nonprofit organizations and subject matter experts knowledgeable in the field of emerging and current technologies. Further, such a plan should include a description of the revised organizational structure within GAO, provide potential cost estimates as necessary, and analyze the following issues: the appropriate scope of work and depth of analysis; the optimum size and staff skillset needed to fulfill its mission; the opportunity and utility of shared efficiencies within GAO; and the opportunities to increase GAO's engagement and support with Congress. GAO is directed to submit this report to the Committees within 180 days of enactment.