Elizabeth Warren wants an office of tech experts advising Congress

To ensure members of Congress don't have to rely on corporate lobbyists for information about the tech industry, the Democratic 2020 candidate wants to revive the Office of Technology Assessment.
Written by Stephanie Condon, Senior Writer

The tech industry is an increasingly powerful force in Washington. Companies like Facebook and Google have significantly scaled up their lobbying in the past decade, influencing the way all lawmakers -- even the best-intentioned -- view the industry. Their efforts are effective in part because members of Congress and their staff just don't have the technical expertise to understand the digital era without some help.  

Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has a plan to change that dynamic. As part of a larger proposal to "break the grip of lobbyists," Warren is suggesting reviving and modernizing the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA). 

Congress established the OTA in the 1970s to help members of Congress understand complicated issues related to science and technology. Over the decades, it produced hundreds of reports on a wide range of topics, like software and IP law, biotechnology, automation in the workplace and arms control in space, just to name a few. However, in 1995, under the leadership of House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Congress defunded the agency. 

Since then, the issues have only become more challenging. Without independent, paid experts to provide advice, lawmakers have turned to industry insiders for guidance on tech policy. Silicon Valley has happily played along -- CEO Mark Zuckerberg has used his facetime with lawmakers to steer Congress toward Facebook-friendly regulations, while dozens of tech CEOs are weighing in on the drafting of federal privacy policy

To establish more independence, Warren wants to bring back the OTA, led by a single, independent director. The office would be responsible for writing up reports, as well as responding to requests from lawmakers who need help preparing for hearings, writing regulatory letters or weighing in on agency rulemaking.

"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," Warren wrote in a Medium post. "And when Congress votes on restoring net neutrality protections, our representatives shouldn't have to turn to internet service providers to explain whether their industry needs more regulation."

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