Continuing on the fast track, the Senate Commerce Committee has
passed a bill to authorize $4.7 billion in nanotechnology research.
Passage by the full Senate seems assured, as the bill language was
proposed by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and George Allen (R-VA), the
principal movers of this legislation, and Committee Chairman John
McCain (R-AZ) and Ranking Member Ernest Hollings (D-SC). In early
May, the House overwhelmingly approved similar legislation.
The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation passed
this legislation, S. 189, by a voice vote on June 19, and sent it to
the full Senate. This bill parallels H.R. 766, a Science Committee
bill that was passed by a vote of 405-19 on the House floor on May 7.
Both versions of this bill authorize an expanded role for the federal
government in nanotechnology research. There are some differences in
the two bills that will have to be resolved The House bill
authorizes (e.g., establishes new programs, sets funding caps) for
three years while the Senate authorization is for five years. But
the amounts of money authorized for NSF (the lead agency), DOE, NASA,
NIST and EPA in FY 2004, 2005 and 2006 in each bill are almost
identical. The Senate bill includes funding levels for NIH,
Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, and
Department of Agriculture, while the House bill did not since these
departments are not under the jurisdiction of the Science Committee.
Neither bill dealt directly with the Defense Department which has a
significant nanotechnology program; the Senate bill calls for
including the activities of the defense program in "interagency
Each bill takes a somewhat different approach to how the federal
nanotechnology research program would be administered at the top.
The House wants a new interagency committee, while the Senate bill
prefers the existing National Science and Technology Council, a White
House level interagency coordinating structure. The House bill
authorizes studies on nanotechnology manufacturing and "safe
nanotechnology," while the Senate bill establishes two centers.
A significant difference between the two bills is the House
authorization for "Science and Technology Graduate Scholarship
Programs." More than 20% of the House bill language was devoted
this program, where the Senate Commerce Committee's bill did not
include such a provision.
During House debate on the nanotechnology bill the only dissenting
voices were from Members wanting a formal mechanism for researching
societal implications of nanotechnology (see /fyi/2003/064.html.)
Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) prefers that such
study be more ingrained throughout the research process than housed
in a separate body. The Senate bill authorizes $5 million for an American
Nanotechnology Preparedness Center "to encourage, conduct, coordinate,
commission, collect, and disseminate research on the educational, legal,
workforce, societal, and ethical issues related to nanotechnology."
Sentiment on the House floor was that this societal assessment mechanism
that the Senate wants would be resolved in a forthcoming conference
between the House and Senate, along with, it would appear, the graduate
scholarship program that the House wants.