May 9, 2002 - Office of Technology Assessment

H.R. 2148

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) is writing in support of H.R. 2148, which would establish an independent agency that on request could provide Congress with comprehensive analyses and evaluations as guides to understanding emerging issues that are based in science and technology and impact on society. The ASM believes that reestablishment of the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) would assist Congress with the pressing need to assess technological and scientific issues, such as stem cell research, cloning, genetically modified foods, molecular medicine, missile defense systems, educational testing, energy, terrorism and homeland defense, that influence public policy.

The ASM, which represents over 40,000 microbiologists worldwide, has special interest in issues and policies related to science and technology. The ASM includes scientists working in academic, governmental and industrial institutions with expertise in medical microbiology and infectious diseases, molecular biology and genetics, environmental microbiology, agricultural and industrial microbiology, including the microbiology of food. ASM members pioneered molecular genetics and were principals in the discovery and application of recombinant DNA procedures and genomics. Moreover, ASM members have for several decades participated in discussions concerning science and technology policy, and most recently have been consulted on bioterrorism by federal agencies and Congress.

Although members of Congress can call upon the National Academies of Science, the General Accounting Office, and the Library of Congress Research Service for legislative histories, investigations and summaries of issues, these agencies are not themselves organized or dedicated to internally perform unbiased comprehensive inquiries and analyses of the impacts of policy and funding decisions relating to advances in science and technology. There is need within the federal establishment for Congress to have a service that parallels that provided to the Executive Branch by the Office of Science and Technology Policy. The ASM is of the opinion that this need can be satisfied by re-establishment of the Office of Technology Assessment as called for by H.R. 2148. The OTA previously served as a creditable, balanced and objective source of analyses and evaluations of high quality that enabled Congress to understand, legislate and manage science and technology policy and programs. Nevertheless, the ASM would expect a revived OTA to also be revised to correct for past limitations. It must be free of any political agenda, efficient, a source of reports of indisputable quality, have a rapid response time, and be capable of tailoring reports to assist Congress in understanding policy issues related to science and technology.

The ASM is pleased to support passage of H.R. 2148 as well as your leadership in this and other matters that require lawmakers to confront complex issues based in science and technology.