Experts Endorse Nanotechnology Bill

Press Release From: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
Posted: Thursday, March 20, 2003

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Expert witnesses today endorsed H.R. 766, the Nanotechnology Research and Development Act of 2003, as a significant step in meeting the current obstacles faced in this emerging industry.  H.R. 766 was introduced by House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) and Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA).

The Science Committee heard testimony from Dr. Thomas Theis, Director of Physical Sciences, IBM Research Division at the Thomas J. Watson Research Center, Dr. James Roberto, Associate Director for Physical Sciences at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Dr. Carl Batt, co-Director of the Cornell University Nanobiotechnology Center, and Alan Marty, executive-in-residence at JP Morgan Partners. 

Richard Russell, Associate Director for Technology at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy stated "The Administration shares this Committee's belief in the importance of federal support for nanotechnology R&D and coordination of the research efforts that are funded."  Russell noted that Administration's differences with H.R. 766 "are minor" and was optimistic that they could be worked out.

Senators George Allen (R-VA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), sponsors of the Senate companion bill (S. 189) also testified.  They noted that Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) has put their legislation on the "fast track."  "It is time for Congress to think big about small science," said Senator Wyden.

H.R. 766 has been endorsed by several leading science, technology and business organizations, including the National Association of Manufacturers, the Semiconductor Industry Association, the Nanobusiness Alliance and the Alliance for Science & Technology Research in America.  In addition, New York Governor George Pataki and the 64-campus State University of New York system have endorsed the bill.

"Nanotechnology is a subject on which there is already broad agreement - on this dais, at the witness table, and indeed in the Congress and country at large.  We all understand that nanotechnology can be a key to future economic prosperity and might improve our lives and that the federal government needs to play a role in making that so.  With that in mind, I introduced H.R. 766," said Chairman Boehlert, who stated his plan to report the bill out of the Science Committee by late April or early May and move swiftly to consideration on the House floor.

"The nanotechnology industry could become one of the new engines of our economy," said Rep. Honda, lead Democratic cosponsor of H.R. 766.  "It is important that the United States lead the world in the development of the nanotechnology industry, and it will take many years of sustained federal investment in research and development to achieve this goal.  It is clear that nanotechnology applications will have a dramatic impact on society, and we set up structures to assess and understand the technical, social, ethical, philosophical, and legal issues that will arise.   I am proud to be working with Chairman Boehlert on this important legislation."

While specific figures are difficult to calculate, Alan Marty testified that an estimated $500 million was invested in nanotechnology start-ups in 2002, and noted "NSF conservatively predicts a $1 trillion global market for nanotechnology in little over a decade."  Marty stressed that a large gap exists between the laboratory and the marketplace and that federal funding in this area has typically been lacking.  "Except for the [Advanced Technology Program], no government programs properly address this vital timeframe in the cycle of research and business.  This time period is one that competing nations in Asia and the EU are particularly attuned to addressing and are providing a life line to many U.S. start-ups, which sends growth and profits abroad," Marty said.  He estimated that in Fiscal Year (FY) '03 Japan invested $1 billion in nanotechnology commercialization and the EU invested over $1 billion.

Witnesses agreed that there are societal and ethical concerns with nanotechnology that everyone must be aware of, but said those concerns have been exaggerated in fiction and the popular press.  Dr. Carl Batt argued, "History shows that most of the dangers to society that result from the misuse of technology arise not from state-of-the-art technology, but more mundane technology in the hands of opportunists."  Witnesses applauded provisions in the Boehlert-Honda bill aimed at addressing societal and ethical concerns and Batt pointed out that Cornell is engaged in an extensive education program to enlighten the public on nanotechnology.

H.R. 766 authorizes $2.1 billion over three years for nanotechnology research and development programs at the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, the Department of Commerce, NASA, and the Environmental Protection Agency.  In addition to establishing a research program to address societal and ethical concerns, the bill responds to a recent National Academy of Sciences report by establishing a Presidential-appointed advisory committee and a committee headed by the Office of Science and Technology Policy to promote interagency coordination.

"It is hard to overstate the importance of federal funding for basic research," concluded Dr. Thomas Theis.  "Each of the critical breakthroughs in nanotechnology has been based on years of sustained federal funding for researchers.  Without the federal government underwriting the long-term funding, there will be fewer breakthroughs to translate into products and economic prosperity."

"It is an area that we're going to continue to have to fund aggressively," agreed Richard Russell.

Research Subcommittee Chairman Nick Smith (R-MI) stated, "Like the biotechnology and information technology sectors of 10-15 years ago, nanotechnology has reached a critical growth stage.  As the industry's emerging innovations close in on fruition, it is important that the Congress works proactively to guide the industry through the inevitable growing pains that lie ahead.  To accomplish this, we will need to intensify our support for research and experimentation in nanosciences - specifically the fundamental, novel research that is too risky for the private sector to undertake.  This effort, combined with strengthened coordination and management of the multi-agency NNI, will help to bridge the necessary link to the wide reach of business and industry interests eager to create new products out of that research.  H.R. 766 will facilitate this bridge."

"Research in nanotechnology will lead to applications that will help shape our Nation's economic future," added Rep. Lincoln David (D-TN).  "I am proud that Oak Ridge is at the cutting edge of this research."

Science Committee cosponsors of H.R. 766 include:  ETS Subcommittee Chair Vernon Ehlers (R-MI); Ranking Democrat Ralph Hall (D-TX); Research Subcommittee Chair Nick Smith (R-MI); Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Ranking Democrat Bart Gordon (D-TN); Energy Subcommittee Chair Judy Biggert (R-IL); Research Subcommittee Ranking Democrat Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX); Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD); Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA); Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R-MN); Rep. Timothy Bishop (D-NY); Rep. Melissa Hart (R-PA); Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-NC); Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA); and Rep. Chris Bell (D-TX).  A summary of the bill is attached.



Section-by-Section Analysis of the Nanotechnology R&D Act of 20003

Sec. 1. Short Title

"Nanotechnology Research and Development Act of 2003."

Sec. 2. Definitions

Defines terms used in the text.

Sec. 3. National Nanotechnology Research and Development Program

Establishes an interagency R&D program to promote and coordinate Federal nanotechnology research, development, demonstration, education, technology transfer, and commercial application activities. The program 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.

Establishes a research program to identify societal and ethical concerns related to nanotechnology and requires that such research be integrated into nanotechnology R&D programs insofar as possible.

Establishes an interagency committee, chaired by the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and composed of representatives of participating Federal agencies, as well as representatives from the Office of Management and Budget, to oversee the planning, management, and coordination of all Federal nanotechnology R&D activities. Requires the Interagency Committee to establish goals and priorities, establish program component areas to implement those goals and priorities, develop a strategic plan to be updated annually, consult widely with stakeholders, and propose a coordinated interagency budget for Federal nanotechnology R&D.

Sec. 4. Annual Report

Requires the Office of Science and Technology Policy to submit an annual report, at the time of the President's budget request to Congress, describing Federal nanotechnology budgets and activities for the current fiscal year, and what is proposed for the next fiscal year, by agency and by program component area. Requires that the report include an analysis of the progress made toward achieving the goals and priorities established for Federal nanotechnology R&D, and the extent to which the program incorporates the recommendations of the Advisory Committee (established in sec. 5).

Sec. 5. Advisory Committee

Establishes a Presidentially appointed advisory committee, consisting of non-Federal experts, to conduct a broad assessment of Federal nanotechnology R&D activities and issue a biennial report.

Sec. 6. National Nanotechnology Coordination Office

Establishes a National Nanotechnology Coordination Office with full-time staff to provide technical and administrative support to the Interagency Committee and the Advisory Committee, to serve as a point of contact for outside groups, and to conduct public outreach.

Sec. 7. Authorization of Appropriations

Authorizes appropriations for nanotechnology R&D programs at the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Agency  FY04    FY05    FY06   
NSF     $350 M  $385 M  $424 M 
DOE     $197 M  $217 M  $239 M 
NASA    $  31 M $  34 M $  37 M
NIST    $  62 M $  68 M $  75 M
EPA     $    5 M        $ 5.5 M $    6 M       
 Total   $645 M  $709.5 M        $781 M

Sec. 8. External Review of the National Nanotechnology Research and Development Program

Requires the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy to contract with the National Academy of Sciences to conduct a triennial review of Federal nanotechnology R&D programs including technical progress, managerial effectiveness, and adequacy in addressing societal and ethical concerns.

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