Ted Kennedy’s Vision for the Office of Technology Assessment

I had the pleasure of meeting the late Senator Ted Kennedy in 1998 when I directed the Discover Technology Awards program. Senator Kennedy invited some of the award winners to meet with him and discuss their emerging technological innovations. As you can tell by this picture, a good time was had by all. (Incidentally, the man on the right is Wolfgang Ketterle from MIT who went on to win a Nobel Prize in 2001.)

Recently, the Federation of American Scientists, which has done a bang up job of pushing to restore the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment (the OTA was defunded back in the 1990s), posted a tribute to Kennedy who was instrumental in defining and launching the OTA back in the 1970s. In the tribute, the FAS included parts of Kennedy’s March 2, 1972 testimony in support of the legislation that created OTA.

Here’s an important part of his remarks, left out of the FAS post. It deals with one of the most important visions Kennedy had for the OTA, but one which was never fully executed: citizen input. We don’t need the “old” OTA. What we need is what Kennedy envisioned: a participatory technology assessment agency. One that gives a voice to the public so critical social consequences and risk assessment can become important considerations in the formation of policy. Let’s take it one step further and decentralize the agency to better capture the collective input and talents of scientists, engineers, and “average” Americans who want, and deserve, a place at this table.

Senator Ted Kennedy said: “Finally, I think it is desirable that the bill be further amended to permit appropriate public participation in the assessment process. Environment and conservation groups, public service law firms, non-profit research organizations and other citizens groups should be allowed and encouraged to submit information and ideas to the Office before it completes its assessments.”

If you would like to join the effort to push for the opening of a participatory technology assessment agency, consider joining our Facebook page. I’ll continue to keep you posted on developments.