Political momentum is building to revive the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), a congressional agency that once provided lawmakers with nonpartisan technical expertise. Presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yang have even made reviving the OTA planks of their platforms, with Yang making a plug for the OTA during the fifth Democratic debate.
Details aside, there appears to be an emerging consensus that the Constitution’s first branch is ill-prepared to tackle some of the most pressing challenges of the day and that it will need more and better technical resources to do so.
Democrats have been leading the OTA charge so far, but there are good reasons for Republicans to join the fight, as my colleague Zach Graves and I have argued elsewhere. At a moment when left and right have become preoccupied by the ethical and social implications of emerging technologies — from Big Tech and cybersecurity to automation and biotechnology — as well as the dangers posed by executive power, conservatives and progressives alike should support efforts to equip Congress with the tools it needs to weigh the positives and negatives of emerging technologies and to deliberate about what actions to take, if any. While this would not be a silver bullet, the alternative — the status quo — is to leave such political questions to unelected experts within the executive branch.