On February 11, the House passed the National Nanotechnology Initiative Amendments Act of 2009 (H.R. 554) by voice vote. The bill would amend the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act (15 U.S.C. 7501 et seq.) and reauthorize the National Nanotechnology Program.
House Committee on Science and Technology Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) and Ranking Member Ralph Hall (R-TX) cosponsored the legislation with 20 of their colleagues including Reps Brian Baird (D-WA), Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), and Michael Honda (D-CA). The text of the legislation is identical to H.R. 5940 (see FYI #56 from 2008) which passed the House in 2008, but stalled in the Senate.
H.R. 554 refines the existing guidelines for how the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) should develop the government’s strategic plan for nanotechnology. The legislation requires that future strategic plans must specify “near and long-term objectives for the Program, the anticipated time frame for achieving near-term objectives, and the metrics to be used for assessing progress….” NSTC’s strategic plan would need to reflect on collaborative opportunities with state research, development, and technology transition initiatives as well.
The National Nanotechnology Coordination Office (NNCO), the secretariat of the NSTC’s Nanoscale Science, Engineering, and Technology Subcommittee, is required by H.R. 554 to develop and maintain a publicly accessible database of projects falling under the various categories. Data “including a description of each project, its source of funding by agency, and its funding history,” will be made available for projects funded under the Environmental, Health, and Safety, the Education and Societal Dimensions, and the Nonmanufacturing program component areas. The NNCO would also create a database of “nanotechnology facilities supported under the Program, and may include information on nanotechnology facilities supported by the states….”
During floor debate, Gordon offered a brief background of federal efforts to oversee nanotechnology saying:
“The Science and Technology Committee recognized that promise of nanotechnology early on, holding our first hearing a decade ago to review the Federal activities in the field. In 2003, the committee was subsequently instrumental in the development and in the enactment of the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act, which authorized the multi-agency National Nanotechnology Initiative, or the NNI, as it is called.
“The NNI supports productive, cooperative research efforts across a spectrum of disciplines, and it is establishing a network of national facilities for the support of nanoscale research and development. The NNI now receives funding from 13 agencies, and it had a budget of $1.5 billion in fiscal year 2008, which represents a doubling of the budget over 5 years.”
Since “The cooperation and planning process among the participating agencies has been largely effective,” Gordon explained that “H.R. 554 does not substantially alter the NNI, but makes adjustments to some of the priorities of the program, and it strengthens one of its core components- environmental and safety research.”
Gordon also noted that “the legislation addresses future STEM workforce needs by supporting the development of undergraduate courses in nanotechnology fields and by creating education partnerships between nanotechnology companies and secondary schools.”
Hall offered additional background on the bill:
“This initiative was first named in the 2001 budget request, and it was made a priority by the previous administration. Last year, we created a necessary and responsible reauthorization bill for this important program. The House took an already good statute and improved it just a bit to streamline some administrative issues and to ensure that areas such as nanomanufacturing, education and environmental health and safety are adequately recognized. Unfortunately, the Senate did not act on it prior to adjournment, so we will try it again with the same bill this year.”
The National Nanotechnology Initiative Amendments Act of 2009 has been referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.