Congress Needs To Get Smarter About Tech. Here's How It Could Do That

It's not rocket science.

Until Congress reverses the technological lobotomy that it performed on itself in the 1990s, our representatives are not going to be as smart about science and technology as the nation needs them to be. That's unfortunate. We need Congress to know how the Internet works, just as people on the Internet need to know how Congress works

At least one congressman understands this: Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.), who is currently the only physicist serving in the 114th Congress. 

Foster told HuffPost on Friday, at the second Congressional Hackathon in D.C., that because of his expertise, his colleagues were asking him about the Iran Deal. That made sense, given his doctorate in physics from Harvard University, but the lack of an institutional non-partisan body full of technologists and scientists that could give non-partisan assessments of the technological or scientific impact around legislation or trade deals is a genuine issue, as Foster explained.

Congress used to have such a body: The Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) once offered lawmakers advice on technology and science, before former House Speaker Newt Gingrich defunded it in 1995.

The absence of the OTA has left a gap that groups like the Internet Caucus has tried to fill with forums on current issues like the sharing economy. The Congressional Research Service has also worked to address this need, with reports on the Internet of Things and similar topics. Friday's Hackathon brought together lawmakers, congressional staff, advocates for good government, journalists, software developers and other members of the public at the Capitol to discuss how the legislative branch could use technology to make Congress more effective, efficient and accountable.

Despite calls to bring the much-needed agency back, however, the U.S. House has voted against funding it again, even in a diminished state.