The House Committee on Science and Technology recently voted to favorably report H.R. 5940, the National Nanotechnology Initiative Amendments Act of 2008 to the House for consideration. The bill would amend the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act of 2003 which authorized funding for nanotechnology research and development under the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI). Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) hailed H.R. 5940 as “an excellent, bipartisan bill that will improve and strengthen the NNI and thereby keep the United States at the forefront of nanotechnology.”
NNI was first made a federal initiative in President Clinton’s 2001 budget submission to Congress. An interagency body, the Nanoscale Science, Engineering and Technology (NSET) Subcommittee, was organized under the National Science and Technology Council’s Committee on Technology to coordinate NNI efforts. The National Nanotechnology Coordination Office (NNCO) serves NSET’s technical and administrative needs. NNI’s 2009 budget totals $1.5 billion across 13 agencies. The Department of Defense and, and the National Science Foundation have the largest investments in nanoscience with $431 million, and $397 million respectively.
The substance of H.R. 5940 came from findings through congressional investigations, recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences, the NNI advisory panel, and other interested parties. The committee has held five hearings on nanotechnology in the last seven months. Chairman Gordon emphasized that the amendments “[do] not substantially alter NNI, but makes adjustments to some of the priorities of the program and strengthens one of the core components-- environmental safety research.”
H.R. 5940 enjoys a broad coalition of bipartisan cosponsors. In addition to Chairman Gordon and Ranking Member Ralph Hall (R-TX), Reps. Todd Akin (R-MO), Judy Biggert (R-IL), Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), Brad Miller (D-NC), Mark Udall (D-CO) and David Wu (D-OR) have signed on, along with 16 others.
The bill would require NNI to modify its strategic planning process to specify near and long-term goals, and include data on projected costs for these goals in each affected agency. Information on the content and funding of environmental, health, and safety research projects would be stored in a publically accessible database. Responsibility for overseeing the societal dimensions component of NNI, including development and implementation would fall on a senior official at the Office of Science and Technology Policy.
The various agencies supporting nanotechnology under NNI would need to encourage the use of their facilities for developing prototype products, and applications for the support of nanotechnology projects under the Small Business Innovation Research Program and the Small Business Technology Transfer Program.
NNI would also be required to support large-scale research in areas of national importance, where nanotechnology presents opportunities for significant economic potential, or societal benefits. Areas of national interest suggested in the bill’s text include energy efficiency, and health care. Research and development activities would be awarded on a competitive, merit basis that must include a plan for transitioning advances to industry for commercial development.
Finally, H.R. 5940 makes an attempt get more students interested in the nanotechnology field. A Nanotechnology Education Partnerships program, as part of the NSF Math and Science Partnership (MSP) program, would provide grants to businesses that offer professional development opportunities to secondary school teachers, enrichment programs for students, and curriculum materials. Efforts to increase undergraduate contact with nanotechnology are also provided for.
A number of amendments were offered by Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Brian Baird (D-WA). Johnson suggested amendments that would compel the President to include an employee, or representative of a minority serving institution on the NNI advisory panel, and to expand the topics for education activities to include the study of nanotechnology from a societal and environmental point of view. Baird submitted two amendments to improve remote access for students and researchers to nanotech facilities. The committee voted in favor of each of these proposed amendments.
On HR 5940, Ranking Member Hall commented, “While its still not a perfect bill, I think it’s a good bill.” Chairman Gordon replied that, “As we move to the senate and on to conference we’re going to work to have a perfect bill.”