Last week's hearing by the House Science Committee makes it clear that
legislation to strengthen the federal role in nanotechnology research
and development is on a fast track. Key representatives, senators, an
associate director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and
other witnesses generally agreed on an expansion of the federal government's
involvement in this emerging field, and indicated that they were close
to agreement on this legislation.
Similar bills have been introduced in the House and Senate to promote
nanotechnology research. Committee chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY)
and Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA.) have introduced H.R. 766, the Nanotechnology
Research and Development Act of 2003. The legislation has 15 cosponsors.
Senator Ron Wyden's (D-OR) bill, S. 189, has nine cosponsors.
Under the House legislation, $2.1 billion would be authorized for nanotechnology
R&D at the NSF, DOE, Department of Commerce, NASA, and EPA. Over
three years, (FY 2004, 2005, 2006) NSF's authorization would total $1.159
billion, while DOE would be authorized for $653 million, and NIST, $205
million. The legislation calls for an interagency R&D program that,
in the words of the bill, "will provide sustained support for interdisciplinary
nanotechnology R&D through grants to researchers and through the
establishment of interdisciplinary research centers and advanced technology
user facilities." See FYI
#30 for more information on both bills.
First to testify were Senator Wyden and Senator George Allen (R-VA).
Both were very enthusiastic about the prospects for nanotechnology,
and their own legislation, S. 189. Wyden expressed support for the Administration's
efforts, saying "We just think we can be bolder and more aggressive."
He also said that "there is absolutely nothing partisan about this
issue." Allen was similarly supportive, and made a key observation
that is probably true of most physical science research: that no more
than 5% of senators or their staffs know what nanotechnology is.
Boehlert was enthusiastic in his reply to the senators' testimony,
lauding them for working across party lines and across the House and
Senate chambers. "We are going to move forward with this legislation,"
Boehlert said, telling committee members that Senator John McCain (R-AZ)
will hold a hearing on the bill.
The executive branch also gave this legislation a green light. Richard
Russell, Associate Director for Technology at the Office of Science
and Technology Policy said "we all share the same goals."
The Bush Administration agrees on the importance of the federal role
in supporting and coordinating fundamental nanotechnology research.
Russell explained that nanotechnology was highlighted in the Administration's
FY 2004 budget request, and predicted that it would be easy to resolve
the minor legislative disagreements between the executive and legislative
Four other witnesses testified at this hearing: Thomas Theis of IBM,
James Roberto of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Carl Batt of Cornell
University, and Alan Marty of JP Morgan Partners. All were supportive
of the legislation.