Comparative Table of Parliamentary TA Institutions


GAO has been providing information and support to the U.S. Congress since 1921. Initially focused on reviewing government expenditures, GAO’s role has since expanded and now includes efforts to improve accountability within the federal government by evaluating government programmes and alerting policymakers and the public to emerging problems. At the request of congressional appropriators, GAO began a technology assessments pilot programme in 2001 in order to provide the U.S. Congress with science and technology advice similar to that provided by the U.S. Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), which operated from 1972 to 1995. In 2008, the U.S. Congress asked GAO asked to continue conducting technology assessments as a permanent programme.


GAO is an independent, nonpartisan agency in the legislative branch of the U.S. federal government – that is, it works for the U.S. Congress. Often called the »congressional watchdog«, GAO investigates how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars and helps improve the performance of the federal government. GAO provides Congress with timely information that is objective, fact-based, nonpartisan, non-ideological, fair, and balanced. All types of work at GAO are conducted under strict professional standards of review and referencing, and all facts and analyses in GAO work are thoroughly checked for accuracy. Types of GAO work include:


The Center for Science, Technology, and Engineering (CSTE), which has conducted GAO´s seven technology assessments, is located within GAO´s Applied Research and Methods (ARM) team. CSTE is jointly directed by GAO´s Chief Scientist (Dr. Timothy M. Persons) and Chief Technologist (Dr. Nabajyoti Barkakati), and in addition to conducting technology assessments, the center conducts or supports GAO´s performance audits that relate to science and technical issues and provides other S&T support to GAO as needed. While GAO has a total staff count of approximately 3,000 individuals, as of January 2012, the total staff count within CSTE was 40 technical analysts across a spectrum of disciplines, ranging from physical sciences (physics, chemistry, and geology), engineering, computer sciences, and operations research sciences (cost engineering, earned value management, and schedule risk analysis). When conducting technology assessments, CSTE augments its capabilities by utilizing other analysts in GAO, including individuals with specialized professional knowledge within ARM, such as economists, social scientists, statisticians, methodologists, and data analysts.


GAO initiates work (including technology assessments) in one of three ways (in order of the priority of the work):
GAO also initiates work under the authority of the head of GAO (the Comptroller General of the United States) to invest in significant current or emerging issues that may affect the nation´s future and address issues of broad interest to the Congress.

When a request for a technology assessment is received or developed through one of these three mechanisms, GAO may begin work on it if staff resources are available and the topic is sufficiently distinct from other work already in progress.


Once the decision to begin work on a technology assessment is made, the director of the assessment (the Chief Scientist or Chief Technologist) assembles a multi-disciplinary team appropriate for the topic. At this time, a production schedule is developed by the team that includes estimates for job design, data collection, message development, report drafting, report reviews, and report issuance. This schedule reflects GAO´s responsiveness to legislative timelines; our report production is designed to enable issuance within 12 months of job initiation, allowing the reports to be timely and useful to the Congress to support legislative issues, congressional hearings, or testimonies.

GAO technology assessments conducted by CSTE use methodology and data collection techniques that can consist of literature reviews; interviews and document requests from federal agencies, academia, industry, and other stakeholders; the use of groups of experts assembled for GAO through a contract with the U.S. National Academies; workshops, surveys, and focus groups; and analysis of the collected data. Process controls include extensive indexing and referencing of collected information that provide assurance that GAO findings, conclusions, and recommendations are supported. Draft reports undergo extensive review, both internal and external to GAO; internal stakeholders throughout GAO provide input for technology assessments through all phases of work and review the final product. GAO can use external experts, such as groups of experts assembled by the National Academies, to review the technology assessment draft report. Furthermore, federal agencies that GAO gathered information from have the opportunity to review the draft report and provide comments that are incorporated in the final report.


The range of topics GAO could potentially address for the Congress is quite broad-requests for GAO work can come from any of the 41 active committees and 181 sub-committees within the U.S. Congress which reflect the full range of activities of the U.S. Government. Therefore GAO could be asked to conduct technology assessment work on topics ranging from energy and climate change, biomedical and health, national and homeland security, transportation and infrastructure, and information security concerns, among others.

To date, GAO technology assessments have addressed topics ranging from biometrics to explosives detection to climate engineering. A full list of publicly releasable technology assessment conducted by GAO can be found at


GAO work, including technology assessments, is primarily written to respond to the legal mandate or congressional request that initiated the work. However, GAO reports are also issued to other relevant committees and members of Congress, and in keeping with its mission of accountability, the GAO customarily posts as many of its products as possible on the website for public consumption and use.


Technology assessments conducted by GAO to date have resulted in written products ( These reports may also contain online-only multimedia components, such as videos/animations or podcasts (for example, the interactive features and additional materials at GAO may also prepare other products, such as congressional testimony, upon request from the U.S. Congress.


GAO´s technology assessment products are designed to provide balanced, objective, fact-based assessments of technologies in the context of federal programmes and/or public policy issues. Furthermore, in addition to GAO´s broad investigative and audit authorities, technology assessments conducted by GAO can further support the oversight, insight, and foresight functions of the U.S. Congress. For example, technology assessments can provide valuable information to support Congress as it develops policy and allocates funding, particularly in the context of strategic foresight.


After receiving direction to establish a permanent technology assessment function, GAO drafted an operational concept memorandum for conducting technology assessments in 2008. GAO is currently reviewing and optimizing its technology assessment procedures and methodologies. Production of technology assessments is likely to remain constant at up to two reports per year, due to current demand and staffing restrictions. Communication with potential congressional requestors is continuing and follows established GAO protocols for interacting with Congress.


U.S. Government Accountability Office
441 G St., NW
Washington, D.C. 20548
United States

Chief Scientist Dr. Timothy M. Persons (
Chief Technologist Dr. Nabajyoti Barkakati (
Center for Science, Technology, and Engineering

Fon  +1 202 512 6412
Fax: +1 202 512 3938

© EPTA, provided by ITA; version 19 Oct 2012