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 branches.
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.