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Nanotechnology Hits Congressional Fast Track

The House Science Committee approved legislation Thursday that would authorize $2.36 billion over three years for nanotechnology research and development programs. The bill provides a formal structure for coordination of research across a number of agencies, including the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy (DOE), the Department of Commerce, NASA, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The bill, the Nanotechnology Research and Development Act of 2002 (HR 766), emphasizes interdisciplinary research, addresses societal concerns raised by nanotechnology, and requires outside reviews of the program. The National Science Foundation (NSF) predicts a $1 trillion global market for nanotechnology in little over a decade.

The bill is sponsored by Reps. Sherwood Boehlert (R.-N.Y.), chairman of the Science Committee, and Mike Honda (D.-Calif.). Senators Ron Wyden (D.-Ore.) and George Allen (R.-Va.), sponsors of a companion bill in the Senate, testified before the Science Committee in March and noted that Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain (R.-Ariz.) has put their legislation on the fast track.

"This bill, over time, will bolster our economy as well as add to our storehouse of knowledge. Leadership has tentatively scheduled floor action for next week -- appropriately a week devoted to bills related to job creation. We are entering an era that will give new meaning to the '60s slogan 'small is beautiful,'" said Boehlert.

The committee also approved an amendment by Honda that would require the development of a plan to utilize federal programs, such as the Small Business Innovation Research Program and the Small Business Technology Transfer Research Program, in support of the goals of accelerating the commercial application of nanotechnology innovations in the private sector.

"I commend my colleagues on the Science Committee for passing the Boehlert-Honda nanotechnology legislation to the House floor. This legislation will not only fund critical research and development in the public sector, but will also help accelerate commercial applications of nanotechnology innovations in the private sector," said Honda.

In addition to Honda's amendment, the committee signed off an amendment introduced by Boehlert to increase the funding levels for the DOE to make it consistent with the recently passed House energy bill.

At the same time the House committee was approving its nanotechnology bill, Sen. Joe Lieberman was urging the Senate Commerce Committee to quickly approve the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act introduced by Wyden and Allen.

"To ensure that the United States takes the lead in this new and promising field of science and technology, we must provide for the organization and guidance necessary to foster interaction between government, academia and industry," Lieberman said. "This legislation provides a strong framework to elicit contributions from all three sectors and thereby move nanotechnology research and development to the next level."

In the last legislative session, Wyden and Allen also sponsored a nanotechnology bill. It was unanimously passed in the Senate Commerce Committee but did not come up for a vote in the full Senate.

Both the House and Senate bills would build on the efforts of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), which was started under President Clinton and has received continued support under President Bush.

"Nanotechnology, as you all know, is an emerging field that seeks to understand and control events at the molecular scale and develop new materials with unique properties currently beyond the realm of conventional technology," Lieberman said. "The applications-from medicine and defense to electronics, environmental protection, and energy-are endless and endlessly impressive."

Lieberman told the committee the U.S. is in danger of falling behind its Asian and European counterparts in supporting the pace of nano-technological advancement.

"One would think the world's most innovative and ingenious economy would be the uncontested pioneer in nanotech-but unfortunately, one would be wrong," Lieberman said. "While we have the resources and talent we need, unless this talent is well organized-with big-picture vision and new collaborations between government, academia, and industry, we may find ourselves left in the wake of the next great wave of innovation."