Congress had an office that gave expert tech analysis; let's bring it back
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In 1995, the Congressional Office of Technological Assessment (OTA) was abolished. The OTA existed from 1972 to 1995 and was tasked with providing congressional members nonpartisan analysis on complex scientific and technical issues.

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Over the course of its history, it provided members with over 800 reports, averaging about 10 reports a year. The OTA served as a guiding oversight into an earlier era of technology advancement, enabled by faster computing, expanding data, and cooperative public/private investment in research and development.

When the OTA was abolished, legislators really did not contemplate the impact and the future need for such an office. They did not anticipate the rates of obsolescence and the "Malthusian" advances in science and technology. They also did not envision the economic implications for manufacturing and the corresponding economic sectors of energy, health, security, agriculture, finance, communications and transportation that constitutes the new American economy.

Since 1995, technological advancements certainly have been profound and impacting. Consider a short list of technologies that have been introduced into the marketplace: the MP3 audio format, flash storage, the mega search engine (Google), Wi-Fi, multicore processors, big data, social media, smartphones, Bluetooth, virtual reality, connected vehicles, satellite imaging, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Included in this is the daunting list of security and operational challenges that have been affiliated with these technologies: cybersecurity, privacy, encryption, connectivity, spectrum, block-chain, biometrics and quantum computing.

What compounds all these challenges is the emergence of new economic ecosystem: the Internet of Things (IoT). In fact, according to Cisco, the estimated number of machine-to-machine connections will grow from 4.9 billion in 2015 to 12.2 billion in 2020.

With the rising challenges of a new tech era also comes new opportunities that are exciting and are already impacting on the social fabric of society.

Among the various sectors, a new OTA will be able to analyze and report on the following innovative technology issues. 

Health

  • Implantable devices (bionic eyes, limbs)
  • DNA nanomedicines and delivery
  • Genomic Therapy 
  • Medicine for longevity, life enhancement
  • Human regeneration Human cells interfaced with nanotech 

Finance 

  • Mobile payments and banking
  • Identity management
  • Biometric security (access control facial recognition, voice recognition, iris and retina scanners) 

Transportation 

  • Sustainability of infrastructure
  • Converged transportation ecosystems and monitoring
  • Autonomous and connected cars
  • New Materials for stronger construction and resilience

Security

  • Surveillance (chemical and biosensors, cameras, drones)
  • Non-lethal technologies
  • Forensics
  • Interoperable communications

Agriculture 

  • Aqua farming
  • Water purification
  • New food manufacturing tech

Because of the growing need for assessment and analysis on a wide array of new policy challenges associated with emerging technologies, the idea of reconstituting the OTA has started to pick up bipartisan support in Congress.

The time is ripe for the next Congress to consider the value of OTA as it pertains to the future applications of new technologies and processes.

Technological transformation comes with the need for technical depth. Having an OTA bolstered by subject matter experts across a wide range of technologies and verticals can provide a heuristic resource for Congress to make better informed decisions on matters of national importance. The smart assimilation of new technologies will determine the competitiveness of America's industrial and military strength into the immediate future.

And, in times of challenging budgets and uncertainties, there is also a growing realization that bringing back OTA can help identify cost-effective areas for future investments and help provide a framework for both digital government, industry and the interconnected world.

The start of a new administration and the accompanying legislative session is an opportune time for considering bringing back the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment.

Brooks serves as the vice president for government relations and marketing at Sutherland Government Solutions. He is also vice chairman of CompTIA's New and Emerging Technologies Committee. Brooks served at the Department of Homeland Security as the first director of legislative affairs for the Science and Technology Directorate. He also spent six years on Capitol Hill as a senior adviser to the late Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.). Follow him on Twitter @ChuckDBrooks and on LinkedIn.

Logsdon is the senior director of public advocacy for CompTIA. In this role, he runs the association's New and Emerging Technologies Committee (focused on the policy surrounding social, mobile, big data/data analytics, cloud, the Internet of Things, and smart cities). He was also the staff lead for CompTIA's federally focused technology convergence commission, which examined the impact on the public sector when social, mobile, analytics and cloud converge. Follow him on Twitter @DJLSmartData.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.