Warren proposes investing in congressional tech expertise to diminish lobbying power

Warren proposes investing in congressional tech expertise to diminish lobbying power
© Greg Nash

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenHillicon Valley: Subpoenas for Facebook, Google and Twitter on the cards | Wray rebuffs mail-in voting conspiracies | Reps. raise mass surveillance concerns On The Money: Anxious Democrats push for vote on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi, Mnuchin ready to restart talks | Weekly jobless claims increase | Senate treads close to shutdown deadline Democratic senators ask inspector general to investigate IRS use of location tracking service MORE (D-Mass.) on Friday proposed reinstating a congressional office dedicated to improving tech expertise in order to beat back the growing power of technology companies' lobbying efforts.

In a plan posted to her website, Warren — one of the top Democratic presidential contenders — said she wants to bring back the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), which was set up in the 1970s and dissolved in 1995 under former House Speaker Newt GingrichNewton (Newt) Leroy GingrichMORE (R-Ga.). 


Congress stood up the OTA to deliver technology expertise to staffers and lawmakers, who often struggle to keep abreast with the latest developments in an advanced and complex industry. 

Since the OTA was defunded, the country's top tech companies, including Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook, have invested millions in lobbying efforts, filling the knowledge gap, Warren said, with the message, "Trust us because we understand it and you don’t."

"Members of Congress should have the resources they need to make decisions without relying on corporate lobbyists," Warren said.

There's been a recent spike in interest around the OTA, with lawmakers in the House and Senate proposing legislation that would reinstate the tech office to help lawmakers navigate the pressing regulatory concerns around Big Tech. 

A draft fiscal 2020 legislative branch funding bill would dedicate $6 million in initial funding to the OTA, though Senate appropriators stripped that funding on Thursday.

Warren is arguing the OTA could help lawmakers avoid another public embarrassment like last year's hearings with Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergKey Democrat opposes GOP Section 230 subpoena for Facebook, Twitter, Google Many Google staff may never return to office full time Hillicon Valley: FBI, DHS warn that foreign hackers will likely spread disinformation around election results | Social media platforms put muscle into National Voter Registration Day | Trump to meet with Republican state officials on tech liability shield MORE, when multiple lawmakers drew criticism for questions that revealed a lack of understanding around how social media platforms work.  

"When Congress decides whether it should break up big tech companies, our representatives shouldn’t have to rely on Google’s policy team to understand the effects of technology consolidation," she wrote.

Her plan would also increase salaries for congressional staffers and funding for multiple congressional support agencies. 

The congressional staffs for science and technology committees have decreased by 40 percent over the past several decades. 

In recent months, Democrats have said there is a new urgency for the office as lawmakers work up legislation around privacy, investigate whether the tech companies function as monopolies, and grapple with the expanding field of artificial intelligence. But Republicans are wary of reopening it, arguing that other departments can carry out those tasks without "duplication." 

"Reinstating the Office of Technology Assessment and strengthening congressional independence will give Congress important tools to fight back," Warren said. "It will also ensure that members of Congress acting in good faith do not recite talking points from the very companies trying to avoid regulations — and that members of Congress acting in bad faith can’t get away with parroting industry disinformation."