Bruce Bimber

This essay of about 20 pp. in manuscript discusses an episode of symbolic "trophy hunting" in the 104th U. S. Congress. The Republican majority that took control of Congress after the 1994 election made reductions in the size and scope of the federal government a centerpiece of its policy aims, targeting dozens of agencies and programs for closure. The first agency actually closed was a tiny institution that no one would have expected to be first in line: the Office of Technology Assessment. This paper explores the political logic behind the closure of this agency, and shows how it was part of a failed effort by legislators to make a case to the public about the need for sacrifice in a time of budget cutting. Responses to the essay are welcomed by the author.

Bruce Bimber is Asst. Professor in the Dept. of Political Science, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106. He was Assoc. Political Scientist at RAND's Critical Technologies Institute from 1991 to 1993. His book on the OTA, titled "The Politics of Expertise in Congress: The Rise and Fall of the Office of Technology Assessment," will be published in summer 1996. E-mail him at (This page mounted 2/22/96; last revised 2/22/96)

(Not to be reproduced in whole or in part, on or off the Internet, without the express permission of the author.)


The pluralistic logic of U.S. politics is well known for facilitating the creation of new agencies and programs while mitigating against their termination. The elimination of one of the federal government's roughly 200 agencies is therefore an unusual event. The new Republican majority of the 104th Congress promised early on to make this infrequent event more common: the elimination of federal agencies was a key element of its 1995 "revolution." Indeed House Republicans' 1994 campaign manifesto, the "Contract with America," called for a "fundamental restructuring" and reduction in the size of government. When the first Republican-controlled Budget Committees ever produced the fiscal year 1996 budget resolution a few months after the election, both House and Senate committees generated lists of dozens of programs, agencies, and cabinet departments recommended for termination.[1]

The first federal agency to actually fall at the hand of the 104th Congress was the relatively obscure Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), a twenty one year-old congressional agency. Legislators "zeroed out" its funding for 1996 in the legislative branch appropriation bill, and the agency closed its doors at the end the 1995 fiscal year.

To many observers of the agency, its elimination came as a shock, and the logic behind the action posed a puzzle. The agency seemed to be the most unlikely of targets for the highly partisan governmental reorganization being pursued by Republicans. Unlike agencies of the Commerce and Education Departments, which provided high-profile targets for the effort to reduce federal involvement in American life, OTA had no recent record of Republican opposition. It had been well over a decade since anyone of either party had discussed terminating its activities or had mounted an attack of any kind on its appropriation. Its work was uncontroversial by Washington standards, in contrast with that of many other agencies targeted for elimination, such as the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities. And unlike more anachronistic agencies such as the Tennessee Valley Authority, OTA was relatively young and had a highly current mission, especially given enthusiasm in the Speaker's office--as well as in the White House--for new technologies.

OTA had virtually no enemies to its purpose or methods; on the contrary it had a number of staunch supporters in the Republican party, among them Senators Orrin Hatch and Ted Stevens.[2] And apparently most puzzling of all was the fact that OTA's budget was tiny--so small in fact as to offer savings that would be virtually undetectable in the battles over reducing the budget by hundreds of billions. At roughly $20 million, the agency's appropriation represented pocket change compared to even the small items in the budget to which legislators typically paid any attention. Why did this apparently unlikely agency become the target of budget-cutting efforts. What does its elimination tell us about legislative budget strategy in the 104th Congress? Did legislators achieve their intended goal by eliminating the agency?

This paper answers these questions, arguing that OTA was actually not an unlikely target at all. I claim that OTA was terminated precisely because it was a small and uncontroversial part of the federal budget, not in spite of this fact. Its termination is an example of symbolic budget-cutting, or "trophy hunting" as the activity is sometimes called on Capitol Hill. Congress terminated the agency as part of a strategy of making reductions in its own appropriation in an attempt to build a public case for other, larger, and more politically difficult reductions in government spending. This paper shows that the agency was eliminated not because it offered substantive financial savings to legislators hard pressed to wring dollars out of the budget, but because it offered a politically inexpensive way for legislators to signal their willingness to lead the way in making sacrifices in the name of budget reduction. Ultimately that strategy failed, leaving legislators without the symbol they sought or the services of the agency.


The Office of Technology Assessment was an advisory institution. Like the other three legislative support agencies--the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the General Accounting Office (GAO), and the Congressional Research Service (CRS)--its function was to provide expertise to legislators. Whereas CBO provides budget and economic analysis, GAO accounting and oversight activities along with a wide variety of programmatic expertise, and CRS reference services, OTA was specialized to analyze policy problems with scientific or technological content. Its main activities were organized around producing and distributing about thirty major policy studies each year, delivered in the form of hefty "OTA reports." Many of these reports were mainstays of the community of policy analysts in Washington, providing background analysis and definition of policy problems accompanied by explorations of the costs and benefits of various government responses. In its last year, it employed about 200 people and had a budget of just over $20 million.

The agency's name reflected the interest of some of its original sponsors in science and technology as distinct areas of policy, but by the time of its termination the title had become something of a misnomer, because of the ubiquity of technical issues in policy problems of all kinds. OTA's studies addressed health care, energy policy, environmental issues, land and resource management, trade, defense, and a host of other subjects. For the most part, the agency's work was the province of insiders, but occasionally its studies garnered widespread attention--in the debates over the Strategic Defense Initiative in the mid-1980s and over the Brady Handgun Control Act in 1991, for instance.

OTA had been created in 1972 as the product of two movements, one intellectual and one political. A growing enthusiasm among some scholars in the late 1960s and early 1970s for bringing the rigor of science to public decision-making about technology was the first of these movements. This "technology assessment" movement was committed to the analytic evaluation of "advantages and disadvantages of new technologies," and it spawned journals, interdisciplinary programs in universities, the International Association for Technology Assessment, as well as agencies in several Western governments dedicated to informing democratic decisionmaking with technical expertise.

In the U.S. Congress, this movement led in the late 1960s to a bill proposing a congressional office for assessing new technologies. Initially the province of a small number of legislators with a specific interest in science and technology, the proposal was soon swept up in the much larger and more politically important institution-building movement of the 1970s in Congress. Legislators with scant interest in science and technology policy were attracted to the OTA proposal because it promised to decrease Congress's reliance on the executive branch for information about defense, space, and other issues with technical content. After an unsuccessful effort to attach the bill to the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970, its sponsors succeeded in passing the bill in the next Congress. Just as with the creation of CBO two years later, the vote to establish OTA in 1972 was largely a vote to strengthen Congress's hand against the White House and the bureaucracy. The creation of OTA represented what some legislators saw as an ingredient of good policy, and what many more saw as the fulfillment of an institutional need.

The agency created by legislators in 1972 had three characteristics that are important to understanding its eventual fate in the 104th Congress. The first was its small internal constituency within the legislature. Unlike CRS, which provides services to virtually every legislator and committee, or GAO which produces dozens of studies annually for many legislators, OTA's regular constituency numbered only a few dozen senior legislators at most. OTA's authorizing legislation, the Technology Assessment Act of 1972, stipulated that the agency undertake major policy studies only at the request of the chair of a full committee.[3] Over the years the agency developed a regular clientele among the Senate Commerce and Labor committees, the House Energy and Science committees, and many others, but its services did not extend much beyond the offices of the chairs and ranking minority members of the full committees. In a period when the committees were relatively autonomous from centralized party direction control and when junior legislators had relatively little influence over committee agendas, this arrangement was functional for OTA's survival.

Just as important was the fact that OTA had no regular role in the policy-making process. Unlike CBO, which conducts regular economic and budget forecasts and undertakes scorekeeping of bills as part of the budget and appropriations process, OTA played no regular, necessary role in any component of the legislative process. No aspect of policy-making required an OTA study be conducted, and certainly nothing required legislators to take note of studies once they were completed, although a small group regularly did so. In this sense OTA's contribution to Congress's work was poorly institutionalized in the legislature.

The influence of the agency's work on policy was difficult for many to see. As is often true about the role of substantive expertise in the policy process, the effect of OTA's work was limited almost exclusively to early stages of policy-making, during agenda-setting processes. Staff and key committee members used OTA work in judging the salience of problems, in framing issues, and in identifying policy options--typically well before bills were even introduced. Legislators rarely drew the agency into the more publicly visible processes of debating bills, voting, and publicly explaining decisions. This fact contributed to OTA's low profile inside Congress and especially outside of it.

The third important characteristic of the agency was its strategy toward publicity and visibility. OTA fostered its own low profile and committed itself to the avoidance of controversy. It never attempted significant institutional expansion or, made a priority of establishing a secondary constituency for its work among rank-and-file legislators, the leadership, or the media. Instead, it focused a tremendous amount of organizational effort on balancing the often conflicting interests of its small, primary clientele.

The reason that OTA eschewed typical bureaucratic institution-building is an interesting one. Its strategy was the product of controversy at the agency during the late 1970s over what was widely perceived as a bias toward the interests of liberal members. In both chambers, the sponsors of the OTA bill had been mainly Democrats, most importantly Sen. Edward Kennedy. Between 1974 and around 1980, Republicans regularly and legitimately complained of OTA's bias toward the interests of Kennedy and other Democrats.[4] By the late 1980's many observers had written off the agency as a failed attempt to provide credible advice to Congress, and the agency narrowly survived an attempt to eliminate its appropriation in 1981.

As a result of this nearly fatal controversy and frustration with its failure to establish credibility, OTA embarked in the early 1980s on a strategy for survival under the leadership of a new director. After having experimented with other approaches to securing a stable market for its work, the agency adopted a concrete strategy of neutrality that involved balanced solicitousness of Republican and Democratic interests. The agency severed ties between its staff and legislators' offices, avoided making specific recommendations or endorsing policy alternatives, began consulting with Republican legislators at the very beginning of its studies, soliciting their input and interests, and employing balanced expert review panels comprised of various groups and organizations with an interest in the issues under study.

The strategy of neutrality, which in various forms the other three congressional agencies were also pursuing, paid off very early, silencing criticism by the mid-1980s and earning the agency allies among Republican ranking minority members in the House and Republican committee chairs in the Senate.

The lesson that OTA managers took from the positive effects of this strategy was that neutrality was the key to the survival of congressional agencies. This lesson was reinforced when the agency found that balance helped it avoid conflict from committees with competing jurisdiction. Throughout the 1980s and up until 1995, the agency made a top priority of avoiding alienating any among its small primary clientele, either by being seen as favoring one party over the other, or as favoring one committee over others. Avoiding making enemies among key committee chairs and ranking minority members proved more important at OTA in this period than did making new allies on the subcommittees, among rank-and-file legislators, or with the party leaderships.

The problem with increasing its clientele and building a larger market for its work was that a larger clientele would be more heterogenous, with a greater variety of interests and demands to be met. Satisfying all segments of a larger market simultaneously would be difficult, and failing to do so would likely lead to a resurgence of criticism. So the agency satisfied itself with maintaining maintain a small and friendly constituency among the committees.

In the climate of structural stability inside Congress of the 1980s and early 1990s, this strategy served OTA well. It was rewarded with regular budget increases at about the level of inflation, overwhelmingly friendly oversight hearings, and an environment of political calm. After 1981 it never encountered threats to its funding or authorization. Despite its small constituency and low degree of institutionalization of its functions, avoiding attention with a strategy of quiet neutrality were sufficient to ensure OTA its own stable niche in the legislative system. But the dramatic change of circumstances inside Congress precipitated by the 1994 election turned the various elements of this strategy into liabilities.


The new Republican majorities elected in 1994 made reducing the budget deficit a top priority for the new Congress. There were several strands of thought about how to overcome the problem that had so often defeated Democratic Congresses in the 1980s and 1990s: public opinion polls consistently show majorities of Americans in favor of deficit reduction while specific deficit reduction proposals consistently fail to garner strong support. House Republicans tended to favor the balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, the first of the ten major "Contract with America" policies.

In the Senate, several key Republican budget strategists favored a piece-by-piece approach to deficit-reducing policy changes, starting with reductions in Congress's own budget. Soon after the election in November of 1994, Senate Republicans laid out plans for using cuts in the legislative branch appropriation as a symbol for what was to come across the entire federal government; the idea was to build a public case for sacrifice, with Congress setting an example.

At around $2.4 billion, the congressional appropriation was too small to provide much in the way of real budget savings: it consumed on the order of a tenth of one percent of a federal budget that would have had to be cut around ten percent to balance. Firing the entire legislature and all its staff, and returning its appropriation to the Treasury would scarcely have made a noticeable mark on the budget deficit. But the value of cutting the congressional budget outweighed the direct monetary worth of the exercise. There was a sense among many Senators that deficit reduction should be portrayed as starting "at home;" that Congress should demonstrate its willingness to make sacrifices along with the rest of the nation. This strategy was consistent with what House colleagues were pursuing in the Contract's "Opening Day Checklist" of congressional reforms--cutting the number of committees and committee staff and undertaking an audit of the legislature for "waste, fraud, or abuse"--but was intended as a stronger message even than that.

The two main champions of the idea were Pete Domenici (R-NM), in line to become chair of the Senate Budget Committee, and Connie Mack (R-FL), Republican Conference Chair, in line to become chair of the Legislative Branch Subcommittee of the Appropriation Committee. At their instigation, in December the Republican Conference passed a resolution on congressional reform, stating the belief that it was imperative that the legislative branch be reduced in size and cost as a signal of budget leadership in a period when nearly every aspect of the federal government was to be trimmed. The conference labeled the idea "Cutting Congress First" (Republican Conference 1994). The resolution called for a 15% reduction in committees' budgets, a 12.5% reduction in leadership and support offices, and substantial reductions in the cost of the four congressional support agencies, including outright abolition of OTA.

The OTA cut was championed by Mack. While abolishing the agency would save only $20 million, tiny amount even with respect to just the legislative budget, the significance of OTA's budget was greater than $20 million. The agency represented a concrete budget prize, or "budget trophy" in the terminology of some congressional staff interviewed by the author. "Zeroing out" OTA would allow Mack and the Republican Party to advertise that a congressional agency had been eliminated outright; it would "build moral capital" for legislators pushing painful cuts in distributive programs, and would demonstrate Republicans' "budget- cutting bona fides."

The idea caught on among Republicans and some Democrats. In a February hearing, Representative Dave Weldon of Florida said "we need to show good faith and cut our own staff" (Salant 1995a, 433). Ron Packard of California, chair of the legislative branch subcommittee of House Appropriations said: "We think its important that the Congress sends the message that we're downsizing our agencies and ourselves, and we expect the rest of the government to fall in line" (Salant 1995b, 1379). A witness at a joint House-Senate budget hearing in early 1995 used the term "getting [Congress's] own house in order" to describe the same idea (Wright, 1995). David Mason, director of the Heritage Foundation's US Congress Assessment Project, told members that whatever small contribution toward deficit reduction Congress could make by reducing its own spending would be "magnified many times by its value as an example" (Mason 1995). Both the Senate and House budget committees included OTA on their lists of agencies targeted for termination. The proposal to eliminate OTA was by no means the centerpiece of the legislative branch appropriation bill, but it added credibility to legislators' attempts to position themselves on budget-cutting high ground.

If Congress was to be trimmed for symbolic reasons, OTA was a tempting target. It was the congressional agency whose absence would be felt the least. It was not well known among junior and even some senior members, and was virtually unknown to newly elected legislators. Its small internal constituency and lack of institutionalization made it a not unlikely choice for legislators looking for a symbol of their commitment to the difficult task of budget reduction.

A wave of public criticism of Republican tax and welfare proposals in March of 1995 only strengthened the resolve of Mack and other Republicans to terminate OTA. In an interview with the author, a Republican aide in the Senate close to the process took pains to explain that the attack on OTA's budget did not serve any policy objective except trimming the budget. "This is not a partisan thing," he claimed, "we stipulate that OTA does great science. They are widely and globally recognized and cited." But he said, "We're talking about taking away school lunches...we have to look pretty hard at their $23 million budget." Representative George Brown, an opponent of the idea, conceded that OTA was a small, easily identifiable budget target whose elimination would not have any direct, short-term consequences for legislators' interests (Brown 1995). The same could not be said of CBO, CRS, or the General Accounting Office, and certainly not of legislators' personal staffs.

The OTA proposal was successful in the House Appropriations Committee, but it was then narrowly defeated in a series of wild floor votes in June. After a vote to terminate OTA succeeded 213-214, Democratic Whip David Bonior accused the Republican leadership of ending the voting early, preventing two agency supporters who were attempting to vote from doing so. After vitriolic exchanges, Republicans agreed to nullify the contested decision and re- vote on an amendment by Republican Amo Houghton to restore the agency's funds.[5].

That amendment succeeded 220-204, but went on to defeat in the Senate Appropriations committee and on the Senate floor. In Conference there was no compromise as the agency had hoped. House conferees acceded to the Senate provisions on OTA, establishing the close of fiscal year 1995 as the end of OTA's operations.

Throughout the process, agency supporters from both parties offered a variety of arguments in defense of the agency. Democrat John Dingell called OTA a "valuable asset," and observed that "no such bipartisan agency could exist in the executive branch" (Dingell 1995). Republican Mike Oxley described having relied on OTA to resolve conflicting technical claims by the telephone industry and the FBI, and urged his colleagues to retain the agency for just such situations, where Congress was confronted by conflicting experts. Referring to OTA as the only independent source of technical expertise available to Congress, Representative Vic Fazio said "The Department of Energy will tell you [their policy] is the greatest thing since sliced bread. We need someone who will tell you the opposite" (Salant 1995a, 433). In the Senate, Ernest Hollings argued that OTA was a "shared congressional resource." He attempted to rebut critics like Mack who were calling OTA "a luxury we cannot afford in these times," arguing that Congress needs "more common resources not fewer" and that without OTA legislators would "rely more and more on the Executive branch for information about science and technology." He noted "this is exactly the spot we were in over twenty years ago that gave impetus to creating OTA" (Hollings 1995).

Republican Orrin Hatch urged his colleagues not to "cut off our nose to spite our faces," saying "I do not believe that anyone who knows anything about science and technology seriously questions the quality of OTA's work nor the agency's credibility" (Hatch 1995b). Hatch believed that the agency had overcome its liberal ties of the 1970s and subsequently demonstrated its worth the legislature (Hatch 1995a).

But the symbolic value of "Cutting Congress First" was too attractive to many legislators. The quality of OTA's work and its credibility were never much at issue. The logic behind eliminating OTA was made clear in the Senate's rejection of an amendment by Hollings that would have saved the $20 million and kept OTA. Hollings' had offered language to fund OTA at a level of $15 million, to be paid for by reducing the appropriations of other congressional agencies just 1% each. The total budget savings in the legislative branch bill could thereby remain at the level set in committee, and OTA could be kept alive; the price would only be reductions in other agencies that would be scarcely noticeable to legislators. Hollings' amendment was tabled in committee on a vote of 11-13, and then defeated again on the floor in a vote of 54-45, with a majority of Republicans siding with several Democrats to terminate the agency. Legislators provided 60 says of severance pay to OTA employees, funded a skeleton staff to remain on for a few months to close out on-going activities, and assigned the records and property of the agency to the Architect of the Capitol for disposal by the end of the calendar year.


The final legislative branch appropriation for 1996 involved a combination of symbolic and substantive cuts. The total appropriation was $2.1 billion, a reduction of $206 million or about 8.5% from the previous year. Reductions in the Congressional appropriation are unusual, but not unprecedented. Congress has reduced its own appropriation twice before since 1970, in 1987 by 8.3% and in 1985 by 2.7%.

Much of the savings in the FY1996 bill came from large reductions in a few major items. Over a third of the savings came from a reduction in GAO's funding by $75 million, which represented a cut of 17% for the agency. Another $56 million came out of the committee budget in the House, a reduction of 42%. The elimination of OTA and other reductions in a variety of items made up the rest of the savings.

Several items in the congressional appropriation received increases. For instance, the House increased its own leadership budget by about 4%, and allowances for members' "representational expenses," which includes the hiring of clerks, the cost of mail, and other "official" expenses by about 3%. The Congressional Budget Office, with new responsibilities under the Unfunded Mandates Act of 1995, received an increase of 13%, and the Library of Congress an increase of about 12%.

The real value of these changes in the legislative budget hinged on Republicans' ability to capitalize on them with the public, to sell the "Cutting Congress First" concept and use it to build a case for more difficult funding decisions to come. The internal strategy within Congress had worked well; many legislators had been drawn to the idea, and except for the drama over the Houghton amendment in the House, the legislative branch bill had fairly sailed through both chambers.

But drawing attention to the cuts from outside the Beltway proved far more difficult. The legislative appropriation typically does not attract much notice in the press, and Republican leaders of the Cutting Congress First strategy failed to generate a sufficiently strong media campaign to overcome this traditional disinterest in Congress's own budget. The idea that Congress was sacrificing in the name of deficit reduction proved a hard sell to the media. The initial framing of the idea in the Conference and hearings during winter and spring received almost no coverage in the press. House consideration of the legislative branch bill in June did produce a small flurry of stories, but many of these trivialized the reductions, undermining legislators' message that Congress was leading the way in making real sacrifices. Journalists and editors tended to view the strategy in terms of the familiar reform theme of eliminating "waste, fraud, or abuse." For instance, the Los Angeles Times covered the Legislative Branch Subcommittee's vote under the heading "Packard Panel Votes to End Free Car Washes, Other Perks" (Richwine 1995). The Orange County Register, in Subcommittee Chair Ron Packard's district, also portrayed the bill as aimed at trimming "perks" and "frills such as cheap haircuts and free ice deliveries" (Elboghdady 1995b). The Seattle Times carried an article from the Orange County Register on critics of the bill, saying "Perk Proposal Not Enough" (Elboghdady 1995a). The Washington Times said "Budget Cuts aimed at Esoteric Offices: Nuts, Bolts, Shoes, Zippers are at Risk" (Piccoli, 1995). The Dallas Morning News said "No flagging on cutbacks: Lawmakers vote to shave barbershop, other offices" (Associated Press 1995).

Even articles that emphasized the significant cuts, like the reduction in House committee positions, often also delivered the message that Congress was trimming perks that were questionable in the first place. The Atlanta Journal and Constitution said "House Cracks Down on Perks, Votes to Slash its Budget, 2,700 Jobs" (Espo 1995).

Legislators failed throughout the summer to control the message that designers of the Cutting Congress First strategy had planned to convey. Moreover, that message tended to be lost in the clamor over more politically significant budget items throughout most of 1995. The result was that the idea that legislators were bearing their fair share of funding reductions as an example to the nation was converted in the press into a familiar story about government waste and abuse. There was nothing wrong with that message by itself, but it failed to convey a message about why constituencies facing cuts in Medicare, AFDC, funding for the arts, and so on should look to Congress for an example of belt-tightening.

The effect was the same with respect to OTA. Republicans failed to make a strong public case that their budget trophy represented a real sacrifice, and the loss of the agency failed to make much of a mark as a budget prize. OTA's obscurity worked against that message, and more importantly Senators Mack and Domenici were beaten by agency allies in generating favorable stories in the press about the sacrifice of the agency. Although the wild floor scene in the House attracted media attention, OTA's demise generated paltry public interest, and what attention it did receive tended to be sympathetic toward the agency. The Denver Post, for instance, spoke for many members of policy analysis communities who protested the OTA cut when it described the termination plan as a "false economy" (Rheingold 1995).

In the fall of 1995, things grew even worse for the effort to sell the idea that Congress was occupying budget high ground. When legislators had difficulty passing other appropriations bills by the end of fiscal year 1995, the failed "Cutting Congress First" strategy backfired altogether. Battles over deficit reduction dragged on over the summer, and by the beginning of the new fiscal year on October 1, Congress had passed only two bills, the legislative branch appropriation and a minor military construction and housing appropriation for the Defense Department, so a continuing resolution was needed to fund government operations. The Clinton administration saw an opportunity in the timing of the appropriations and seized it, charging legislators with funding their own salaries while letting the rest of the government languish without appropriations. Clinton took the nearly unprecedented step of vetoing the legislative branch bill on October 4. In his veto message, Clinton noted that the legislative branch appropriation was a "disciplined bill, one that I would sign under different circumstances," but said: "it would be inappropriate to provide full-year, regular funding for Congress and its offices while funding for most other activities of Government remains incomplete, unresolved, and uncertain" (White House 1995). The theme of "Cutting Congress First" had been turned into a message that Congress was taking care of itself first.

In the end, the symbolism of trimming Congress was lost on a public occupied with proposals for far more significant changes in the entire structure of the federal government. It is likely that the termination of OTA will be little more than a footnote to the history of deficit reduction efforts in the 104th Congress. Agency supporters note that OTA's permanent authorization from the 1972 organic law remains in place, and so a subsequent Congress could easily re-appropriate funds and revive the agency, but that prospect seems remote at present. Without the agency, Congress will, as several legislators claimed in its defense, be more dependent upon interested experts for advice: those in the Defense Department, the agencies, and in the private sector. OTA's main contribution was that it distilled and organized expert advice, and presented it in politically relevant but neutral ways. Whether the agency's absence will materially affect the quality of policy will depend upon the capacity of legislators themselves and their staff to assimilate information and make judgements about the quality and bias of expert claims. To be sure, that is a task that they undertake regularly. OTA's absence, combined with significant reductions in the size of House committee staffs, will make that task more difficult to accomplish well.


1. The resolution produced by the House Budget Committee recommended termination of three cabinet departments (Commerce, Education, and Energy), thirteen agencies, and scores of programs. See House of Representatives (1995a). The Senate Budget Committee recommended termination of the Commerce Department and about 150 agencies and programs. See Senate (1995). The final resolution agreed to by both chambers recommended compromises or directed committees of jurisdiction to make choices. See House of Representatives (1995b). (Back )

2. This was not true of the agency in its first years, from 1974 to the early 1980s, when it was known for connections to liberal legislators, particularly Sen. Edward Kennedy. By the late 1980's the agency had shed those connections and established a reputation for balance among both Democrats and Republicans. For an analysis of that transition, see Bimber (1996). (Back )

3. This stipulation in the legislation reflected concern on the part of committee chairs that the new agency might undermine the committees' prerogatives if it provided policy expertise directly to individual legislators. In the 1980s, OTA developed the practice of consulting with ranking minority members (Republicans in the House, and at first Democrats and then after 1986 Republicans in the Senate). Most studies were performed at the behest of both committee chairs and ranking members. (Back )

4. For reflections of this criticism, see Safire (1977), Southwick (1977) , Holden (1977). (Back )

5. See the Congressional Record for June 21-22 for this remarkable series of events. (Back )


Associated Press. 1995. "No Flagging on Cutbacks," Dallas Morning News, Jun. 9.

Bimber, Bruce. 1996 (forthcoming). The Politics of Expertise in Congress: The Rise and Fall of the Office of Technology Assessment, New York: SUNY Press.

Brown, George. 1995. Interview with the author, Mar. 22, Washington, DC.

Commerce Department. 1994. Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1994, Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.

Dingell, John D. 1995. "Testimony before the House Appropriations Legislative Subcommittee Hearing on the Office of Technology Assessment," U.S. House of Representatives, unpublished version, Feb. 23.

Elboghdady, Dina. 1995a. "Critics: Perk Proposal Not Enough," Seattle Times, Jun. 22.

Elboghdady, Dina. 1995b. "Packard Panel Proposes that Congress Trim Perks," Orange County Register, Jun. 21.

Espo, David. 1995. "House Cracks Down on Perks," Atlanta Journal and Constitution , Jun. 23.

Hatch, Orrin R. 1995a. Correspondence with the Author, date, 1995.

Hatch, Orrin R. 1995b. Statement before the Subcommittee on Legislative Branch Appropriations, U.S. Senate, Unpublished document, May 26.

Holden, Constance. 1977. "OTA: Daddario's Exit Heightens Strife over Kennedy Role," Science 197:27-8.

Hollings, Ernest F. 1995. Statement before the Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, Committee on Appropriations, U.S. Senate, Unpublished document, May 26.

House of Representatives. 1995a. Concurrent Resolution on the Budget--Fiscal Year 1996, Report of the Committee on the Budget, (House Report 104-120) 104th Congress, 1st Session, May 15.

House of Representatives. 1995b. Concurrent Resolution on the Budget For Fiscal Year 1996, (House Report 104-159) 104th Congress, 1st Session, Jun. 26.

Mason, David M. 1995. "Congressional Support Agencies," Testimony before the Joint Hearing of the Legislative Appropriations Subcommittees, 104th Congress, Unpublished document, Feb. 2.

Ornstein, Norman J., Thomas E. Mann, and Michael J. Malbin. 1994. Vital Statistics on Congress 1993-1994, Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly.

Piccoli, Sean. 1995. "Budget Cuts Aimed at Estoric Offices," Washington Times, Jun. 28.

Rheingold, Howard. 1995. "Cut Would be False Economy: Bipartisan Office Stays on Top of Technology," Denver Post , Feb. 3.

Republican Conference. 1994. "Conference Resolution," US Senate, Unpublished Document, Dec. 2, 1994.

Richwine, Lisa. 1995. "Packard Panel Votes to End Free Car Washes, Other Perks," Los Angeles Times, Jun. 9.

Safire, William. 1977. "The Charles River Gang Returns," New York Times, May 26.

Salant, Jonathan D. 1995a. "More Hill Cutbacks Coming," Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, Jul. 22, 1995, cited p. 433.

Salant, Jonathan D. 1995b. "Tightening Congress's Own Belt," Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, May 20, 1995, cited p. 1379.

Senate. 1995. FY 1996 Concurrent Resoution on the Budget, Report of the Committee on the Budget to Accompany S. Con. Res. 13 (Senate Report 104-82) 104th Congress, !st Session, May 15.

Southwick, Thomas P. 1977. "Hill Assessment Office Hit by Controversy, Future Role is Questioned," Congressional Quarterly, Jun. 18:1202-3.

White House. 1995. Office of the Press Secretary. "Veto Message to Congress on HR 1854," electronic distribution, Oct. 4.

Wright, Joseph R. 1995. "Testimony on Downsizing the Legislative Branch Support Agencies," Joint House-Senate Legislative Appropriations Subcommittee, 104th Congress, 1st Session, Unpublished document, Feb. 2.