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Posted: May 6, 2008
Gordon speaks to NanoBusiness Alliance regarding the Committee's work on nanotechnology reauthorization
(Nanowerk News) Today, House Science and Technology Chairman Bart Gordon ( D-TN ) spoke at the NanoBusiness Alliance’s NanoBusiness 2008 Conference regarding advancement of nanotechnology. Chairman Gordon discussed legislation to reauthorize the National Nanotechnology Initiative ( NNI ), H.R. 5940, which is scheduled to be marked up at the full Committee this Wednesday, May 7.
Chairman Gordon made the following remarks:
I am pleased to have been invited to address the NanoBusiness 2008 Conference organized by the NanoBusiness Alliance.
Nanotechnology is an exciting field. We are at the threshold of an age in which materials and devices can be fashioned atom-by-atom to meet specific uses.
Nanotechnology-based applications are arising that were not even imagined a decade ago. And, the companies of the NanoBusiness Alliance are at the forefront of bringing those applications to reality.
The NanoBusiness Alliance has naturally taken a strong interest in the development and evolution of the federal, multi-agency National Nanotechnology Initiative -- which is usually referred to as the NNI.
Your organization has also been a consistent and strong supporter of the efforts now underway by the Science and Technology Committee to develop legislation to strengthen and improve the NNI.
I appreciate the helpful advice the Committee has received from the NanoBusiness Alliance during this process. I know many of you here today are from member companies that have contributed recommendations, and I want to thank you all.
The Science and Technology Committee recognized the promise of nanotechnology early on. Our first hearing to review Federal research activities in the field was held a decade ago. The Committee was subsequently instrumental in the development and enactment in 2003 of the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act, the statute that authorized the interagency NNI.
The 2003 statute put in place formal interagency planning, budgeting, and coordinating mechanisms for NNI. It now receives funding from 13 agencies and has a budget of $1.5 billion for fiscal year 2008, which represents a doubling of the budget over five years.
The NNI statute also provides for formal reviews of the content and management of the program by the National Academies and by a designated advisory committee of non-government experts. Their assessments of NNI have been generally positive.
The cooperation and planning processes among the participating agencies in the NNI have been largely effective. The NNI has led to productive, cooperative research efforts across a spectrum of disciplines.
NNI has also established a network of national facilities for support of nanoscale research and development. As most of you are aware, companies have access to these facilities for such uses as prototype development and proof of concept studies to assist the commercial development of promising discoveries.
When the Science and Technology Committee began to consider legislation to refresh the NNI, we soon realized that the program has many strengths and, for the most part, is working well. It does not require extensive renovation.
Consequently, the Committee’s bill leaves NNI’s major features unchanged. But after reviewing the implementation and content of the program, we did identify aspects that require attention and that would benefit from adjustments to current priorities and implementation strategies.
One particularly important area addressed by the bill is risk reduction. Nanotechnology is advancing rapidly, and at least 600 products have entered commerce that contain nanoscale materials, including aerosols and cosmetics.
It is important for the successful development of nanotechnology that potential downsides of the technology be addressed from the beginning in a straightforward and open way.
We know too well that negative public perceptions about the safety of a technology can have serious consequences for its acceptance and use. This has been the case with nuclear power, genetically modified foods, and stem cell therapies.
The science base is not now available to pin down what types of engineered nanomaterials may be dangerous, although early studies show some are potentially harmful.
We don’t yet know what characteristics of these materials are most significant to determine their effects on living things or on the environment. Nor do we even have the instruments for effectively monitoring the presence of such materials in air or water.
Although the NNI has from its beginnings realized the need to include activities for increasing understanding of the environmental and safety aspects of nanotechnology, it has been slow to put in place a well designed, adequately funded, and effectively executed research program.
The environmental and safety component of NNI must be improved by quickly developing and implementing a strategic research plan that specifies near-term and long-term goals, sets milestones and timeframes for meeting those near-term goals, clarifies agencies’ roles in implementing the plan, and allocates sufficient resources to accomplish the goals.
This is the essential first step for the development of nanotechnology to ensure that sound science guides the formulation of regulatory rules and requirements. It will reduce the current uncertainty that inhibits commercial development of nanotechnology and will provide a sound basis for future rulemaking.
A key provision of the bill is to require that the NNI develop a plan for the environmental and safety research component, and a roadmap for implementing it, which includes explicit near-term and long-term goals and the funding required, by goal and by agency.
The bill also assigns responsibility to a senior official at the Office of Science and Technology Policy to oversee this planning and implementation process. And, finally, the bill requires accountability by establishing a publicly accessible database containing information on the content and funding for each research project supported.
Another area addressed by the Committee’s legislation I want to highlight involves capturing the economic benefits of nanotechnology.
We need to ensure that this nation successfully capitalizes on the commercial developments that will flow from the new discoveries resulting from our substantial investment in research on the frontiers of science and technology.
The NNI has so far invested approximately $7 billion over 7 years in basic research that is providing new tools for the manipulation of matter at the nanoscale and is increasing our understanding of the behavior of engineered nanoscale materials and devices.
It is now time to give increased consideration to rebalancing NNI investments toward activities to foster the transfer of new discoveries to commercial products and processes.
The Committee’s legislation specifies steps for increasing the number of nanotechnology related projects supported under the Small Business Innovation Research Program and by the Technology Innovation Program, established under the COMPETES Act.
The legislation also includes provisions to encourage use of nanotechnology facilities by companies for prototyping and proof of concept studies.
In addition, to increase the relevance and value of the NNI, the bill also authorizes large-scale, focused, multi-agency research and development initiatives in areas of national need. The idea is to advance the development of promising research discoveries by demonstrating technical solutions in targeted areas, which will contribute to economic competitiveness or other societal benefits.
The bill also encourages that such undertakings take advantage, where possible, of state funded nanotechnology initiatives.
For example, these targeted research and development efforts could be organized around developing a replacement for the silicon-based transistor, developing new nanotechnology-based devices for harvesting solar energy more cheaply, or nanoscale sensors for detecting cancer and drug delivery devices for treating the disease.
On Wednesday of this week, the Science and Technology Committee will meet to mark up H.R. 5940, the NNI Amendments Act. I introduced this bill along with Ranking Member, Congressman Ralph Hall of Texas, and 23 other co-sponsors.
In developing H.R. 5940, we tried to consult with the broad communities of interest. We looked at the recommendations from formal reviews of the NNI by the National Academy of Sciences and by the President’s Council of Advisors for Science and Technology.
The bill also incorporates recommendations from witness testimony from NNI hearings during this and the previous Congress and from comments and recommendations received from various stakeholder groups, including the NanoBusiness Alliance.
The goal has been to develop a bipartisan bill with broad support from industry, academia, and relevant non-governmental organizations.
I believe that we have produced a bill that achieves this goal. And with the help of those here today as part of a broad coalition of supporters, I believe enactment this year is a real possibility.
Again thank you for your support. I look forward to continuing to work with you all to ensure the continued success of the NNI and to ensure that the United States remains at the forefront of nanotechnology.