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Spending Down: budget cuts shut down OTA

September 29, 1995
Web posted at: 2:25 p.m. EDT

From Correspondent Louise Schiavone

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The first head on the Congressional budget chopping block is about to roll. The Office of Technology Assessment(OTA) closes its doors Friday.

The OTA has been zeroed into bureaucratic oblivion, 23 years after its birth. "It does give you sort of an empty feeling in the pit of your stomach to know that something you thought was important is not there any more," said OTA Director Roger Herdman.

OTA is a bipartisan Congressional research agency, specializing in science and technology.

Roughly half of the 200 employees have found other jobs. The rest are getting severance pay.

Key Senate Appropriations Committee Republican Connie Mack argues that Congress is drowning in information and won't miss the OTA. "When we started looking at it, we realized we have the Congressional Research Service, the Library of Congress that can provide us with information," said Mack.

At OTA, predictably, there's not a lot of respect for Mack's point of view. "I think at this point, most of the people in the building think it's an embarrassment more than anything else. I mean the rest of the world seems to respect this institution. Congress apparently doesn't," said Gerald Epstein of OTA.

One lawmaker, New York Republican Amo Houghton, fought valiantly for the agency but said OTA was a budget line without a constituency. "It's small, it's sort of cloistered, it does far-out research rather than immediate term personal human research and those are the things that you just say, get rid of, it's a scalp," said Houghton.

As the final hour drew near, OTA workers were clearing desks, organizing mailing lists, packing boxes in offices where so many of them had spent so much of their lives.

Others were putting the finishing touches on final reports. But all seemed unfailingly good-humored. "Maybe it's because we're all somewhat manic about the end here but it's been a good run," said Robert Friedman of OTA.

Shutting down OTA will save about $22 million a year. To put it in perspective, the government spends about $1.5 trillion a year, $3 million a minute. If the federal budget were a clock, the OTA budget amounted to just seven minutes.



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