The Crystal Ball on Funding for the Office of Technology Assessment

Earlier this year, the House’s Appropriations Committee favorably reported a Legislative Branch Appropriations bill for FY 2020 that contained $6m in start-up funds for the Office of Technology Assessment spread out over two years. Now that the House and Senate have agreed upon top line spending numbers for the federal government, where does all this stand?

As you might recall, the House of Representatives passed 10 out of 12 appropriations bills, but the Legislative Branch bill was not among them. It got hung up on the House floor over an unrelated fight over providing members of Congress with a cost of living increase.

To date, the Senate has not marked up any appropriations measures because leadership decided to hold off on markups until the House and Senate reached an agreement over the top line number for federal spending spending. With that now resolved, Senate appropriators reportedly made a secret determination about how the Senate will divvy up those funds among among the appropriations subcommittees — that information won’t be public until September — and staff likely are working feverishly over the August recess to draft the Senate’s appropriations bills. We should expect to see the Senate move as many appropriations bills as possible before the fiscal year ends at the end of September, although there may be a long term Continuing Resolution for the controversial measures and a short term CR if they cannot complete the non-controversial measures by October 1.

Also behind the scenes, I would expect that House and Senate appropriators are working out their differences over how much funding should be available to each of the appropriations subcommittees — the House and Senate bills need to be identical, after all — and perhaps they even are looking at what to include in those bills. It’s likely that most controversial measures will not be included. However, making determinations about what to include may be awkward as Senate appropriators do not have official baseline text.

What does this mean for OTA? Usually leg branch approps is the least controversial of all the spending bills and it would already have been passed by the House. But that did not happen and time is running short. I expect the House will pass its leg branch approps bill in September — at least, it seems reasonable they do so — and the recent bipartisan recommendations from the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress on bringing back OTA in some form may firm up the House’s position in support of the start-up funds.

Senate appropriators may be less enthusiastic about bringing back OTA as an independent entity and more supportive of providing more funds to GAO’s STAA, but with the House’s strong support for restoring an OTA-like entity, it seems likely that they would acquiesce to some modest start-up funds.

The biggest determining factor likely is the amount of money that’s available for spending on the legislative branch, which has gotten the back hand for funding as compared to other appropriations subcommittees, and how leg branch priorities will be shoe-horned into that bill.