Earlier this month, Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY)
addressed a nanotechnology conference at Brookhaven National Laboratory.
In his remarks, the chairman spoke of significant congressional support
for nanotechnology, DOE's image, balance in the federal research portfolio,
the outlook on science funding, and the need for researchers to become
more vocal. Selections from Boehlert's remarks follow:
"[W]hat I've come to understand is that in science and technology,
few things could actually be bigger than nanotechnology - in terms of
its potential to revolutionize scientific and engineering research,
improve human health and bolster our economy."
"Perhaps equally remarkable is that the notion of nanotechnology
and its potential impact have caught on with the public and their representatives
in Congress. This is no mean achievement; manipulating atoms is easier
than manipulating public attitudes. And I don't really know how the
public profile of nanotechnology was achieved. But it is a term that
- even though few may actually understand what it encompasses - it's
a term that one can utter in Washington and receive nods of approval.
"That obviously has practical consequences that will benefit all
of you. There is broad, bipartisan support in Washington these
days for investing in scientific research, and broad agreement
that nanotechnology is a priority field. This is reflected in
the President's budget, which names nanotechnology as one of just
four national, interagency R&D priorities - the others being
anti-terrorism research, information technology and global
climate change - high-profile, essential areas of research, not
exactly bad company to keep.
"The even better news is that the importance of nanotechnology
is not just recognized in principle; it's matched by funding proposals.
"The President proposes increasing nanotechnology research spending
across all the federal agencies by 17 percent, including a 53 percent
increase in the Department of Energy - that's in a federal budget in
which proposed domestic spending as a whole barely keeps up with inflation.
That's quite a show of support.
"But, of course, I wouldn't start popping champagne corks just
yet. The release of the President's budget is just the beginning of
the federal spending process, and that process will continue through
the summer and into the fall. Support for science in Congress is broad,
as I said, but it isn't always deep. While virtually no one opposes
science spending in principle, it can get sacrificed to pay for other
priorities, and, frankly, that can be especially true when it comes
to the Department of Energy (DOE).
"While DOE's Office of Science has a budget of about the same
scale as the National Science Foundation (NSF), it isn't nearly as well
known or as broadly supported. There are many reasons for that, including
skepticism about DOE as an entity and some problems with the particular
spending bill that funds DOE.
"But regardless of the cause, what it means is that all of you
need to do a better job of telling people in my position just how much
is at stake in funding you. And that message has to go out to more than
the usual suspects - people like me or folks who represent districts
that have national labs. You need to talk to Members of Congress and
Senators who have no reason to be worried about DOE as a matter of course.
"And you have a great story to tell, especially about nanotechnology.
A field like nanotechnology that is brimming with both intellectual
excitement and practical, economic potential is exactly the kind of
field that Congress likes to support. Similarly, research centers that
bring together university and industry researchers; that marry public
and private funding and researchers to conduct basic research that has
broad applicability - that's exactly what we're looking for. But we're
not going to find out about it unless people like you let us know.
"It's especially important to educate people about nanotechnology
now, at a time when industry does not invest in the same kind of long-term
research it did when the United States had more of a monopoly on scientific
breakthroughs. I don't need to tell you that we cannot rely exclusively
today - if we ever could - on the Bell Labs of the world to develop
the transistors of tomorrow. More than ever breakthroughs of that magnitude
require public support.
"And talking about nanotechnology can also help us begin to address
a larger - and I fear, growing problem in the federal budget, one that
you're all probably painfully familiar with - the disproportionate share
of federal R&D funding that goes to health research. Let me tell
you exactly what I said at our Committee's hearing last month on the
proposed R&D budget for next year. And I should say that our lead
witness at that hearing was Brookhaven's former director, Jack Marburger,
who is a wonderful guy and is now, as you know, doing a terrific job
as the President's Science Advisor.
"I said, 'I have long supported, and continue to support the
doubling of the budget of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). But
the NIH alone cannot undergird our economic health or even improve human
health. Yet the NIH budget is now larger than that of the rest of the
civilian science agencies put together, and just the increase in the
NIH budget is larger than the research budget of NSF.'
"So we have to redress that imbalance. It's fine - indeed necessary
- to pick priority areas and fund them more than others, but we're getting
close to the point that we're funding health to the exclusion of other
areas. And there's one especially critical reason for that: health researchers
have done a great job of explaining what's at stake for us, individually
and collectively, in their research. If there's any area of the physical
sciences and engineering that has as clear a story to tell, nanotechnology
is probably it.
"In fact, I don't think it's much of a stretch to see the national
effort in nanotechnology as analogous to the space race of the 1960s.
Once again, we are setting up a focused effort to make rapid advances
while competing nations - economic competitors in this case - are breathing
down our necks. Only this time our goal is not to explore outer space,
but rather inner space.
"So you have a great story to tell; but you are the ones who need
to tell it.
"What I can promise, as I did at the start, is that you will have
my support, and I will help you tell it. And I already know how
I want the story to end - with a healthy inter-agency program
of nanotechnology research that includes a DOE Nanotechnology
Center at Brookhaven National Laboratory."