Hopes that Senator Connie Mack (R-Florida), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, has had a change of heart about abolishing the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) seem to be dwindling. On May 26, Mack held a hearing on OTA and the General Accounting Office (GAO), and he gave little indication that he is straying from Republican plans to eliminate this congressional support agency.
The Office of Technology Assessment has a $22 million budget, a fraction of the current $2.4 billion legislative branch appropriation. Senate leaders want to cut the legislative budget by $200 million in FY 1996, for a total savings of $1.4 billion between FY 1996-2002. The Senate Budget Resolution recommends a 25% cut in GAO's budget, and a reduction in Senate committee staff by 15%. The resolution also calls for a 25% spending reduction for the Executive Office of the President. House leaders are proposing similar cuts.
Mack received testimony from three senators supportive of OTA -- Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), and Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts.) Mack responded by characterizing OTA's work in favorable terms. In response to unvoiced concerns that he finds fault with OTA's work, he said, "that is not where I am coming from."
Mack's concerns instead centered on two points. The first was that some of OTA's research is performed elsewhere. He also criticized OTA for doing research on topics that did not have a strictly technological orientation. This criticism was echoed by Senator Robert Bennett (R-Utah.)
OTA Director Roger C. Herdman countered these criticisms, but he is in a difficult position as his agency works directly for, and is controlled by, Congress. OTA reports are substantially different from that done by GAO, the Congressional Research Service, Congress and the Executive Branch, or other interests. In 1994, OTA produced 51 reports, and testified 38 times before congressional committees. Further information about OTA can be found on its Homepage at http://www.ota.gov See FYI #75 regarding a recent OTA report.
The Washington Post reports that after the hearing, Mack said, "I wouldn't go that far" when asked if OTA would be eliminated. At the same time, he said that none of the testimony had changed his mind, adding, "They're arguments that I've heard before."
If there is any ray of hope, it may lie along the lines of the strategy being employed by GAO. This agency, with a current budget of $449 million, is looking at a 25% budget reduction in FY 1996. GAO Director Charles Bowsher did not dispute this cut, but rather its timing, asking for two years to make this reduction. This approach appeared to have Mack's support. OTA Director Herdman indicated his willingness to accept a budget cut, and institute other economies. Whether this will be enough to win over Mack, and his House counterpart, Rep. Ron Packard (R-California), is yet to be seen.
UPDATE: On June 8, the House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee voted to eliminate the Office of Technology Assessment.