On Friday, Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren unveiled a proposal to reinstate the Office of Technology Assessment with the aim of helping Congress independently make decisions about technologically complex matters.
When it was active from 1972 to 1995, the OTA provided lawmakers with a breakdown of scientific and technology issues in an effort to aid their decision making. In the absence of the office, lawmakers have placed their trust in lobbyists who often tout their understanding of an issue as a reason they should be trusted.
“It was the ultimate insiders’ play: Trust us because we understand it and you don’t. And too often –– Congress doesn’t,” Warren wrote in the proposal, citing her firsthand account of seeing lobbyists “use their resources and expertise to overpower the needs and wishes of ordinary people.”
Warren noted that this tactic often helps big tech companies avoid regulation.
Part of anti-corruption effort
Warren says reestablishing the OTA would get rid of the “steep learning curves” that members of Congress are often asked to climb on technical subjects. Those learning curves are why lawmakers increasingly rely on corporate lobbyists “whose goal isn’t to find the right policy answer but rather to secure the most profitable outcome for their companies."
“Lobbyists are filling in the gaps in congressional resources and expertise by providing Congress information from the perspective of their paying corporate clients. So let’s fix it,” writes Warren.
Plans to counter the influence of large tech corporations have been at the forefront of Warren’s campaign. In March, the presidential candidate outlined another proposal meant to keep tech giants such as Amazon, Facebook, and Google from using their resources to create a monopoly. She proposed designating large tech platforms as “platform utilities” and using mergers to limit competition.
"I want a government that makes sure everybody — even the biggest and most powerful companies in America — plays by the rules," Warren wrote. "And I want to make sure that the next generation of great American tech companies can flourish.”
“To do that, we need to stop this generation of big tech companies from throwing around their political power to shape the rules in their favor and throwing around their economic power to snuff out or buy up every potential competitor,” she said.
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