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NSF & Congress

House Science Committee
H.R. 766, The Nanotechnology Research and Development Act of 2003

March 19, 2003

On Wednesday, March 19, 2003, the House Science Committee held a hearing to examine federal nanotechnology research and development activities and to consider H.R. 766, The Nanotechnology Research and Development Act of 2003, which would authorize these programs.

The hearing provided strong indications that the recently introduced legislation in the Senate and the House to authorize the National Nanotechnology Initiative will move swiftly through the 108th Congress.

The authors of the Senate version (S. 189) Sen. George Allen (R-VA) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) provided opening testimony to the Committee. They indicated that they had received assurances from Senate Commerce Committee Chairman McCain, R-AZ, that S. 189 would be "fast-tracked" by the Committee and moved to the Senate floor in short order. Sen. Allen noted that "I'd be surprised if [the Senate] didn't do ours on consent agreement." Sen. Wyden went on to say that he believed the bill could be on the President's desk this year.

House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., agreed with those sentiments when he said of the measure that he introduced, H.R. 766. "I think it's safe to say that the bill is pretty non-controversial."

But Richard Russell, Associate Director for Technology at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy indicated in his testimony for the Administration that at least two issues must be resolved: how much to spend and who will play a non-governmental advisory role.

The Administration does not want a new nanotech advisory committee and instead supports giving that role to the existing President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). Wyden and Allen said they plan to propose an amendment to the bill to make PCAST the advisory panel. The House Science Committee has not decided whether to follow the same course.

Chairman Boehlert and Richard Russell agreed that the differences "were minor" and could be resolved.

The other witnesses endorsed the bills. They included: Carl Batt, co-director of Cornell University's Nanobiotechnology Center; Alan Marty, a venture capitalist for JP Morgan Partners; James Roberto, associate laboratory director of physical sciences at Oak Ridge National Laboratory; and Thomas Theis, director of physical sciences in the IBM research division. Dr. Batt spoke very highly of NSF's efforts not only in nanotechnology, but also as a "beacon of light" for basic research in the world.

Committee members were generally very supportive of the bill, with many mentioning that ethical and societal concerns about nanotechnology must be addressed as well, and that uniform agreement that greater awareness of nanotechnology is needed among their House and Senate colleagues.

One area of contention in the hearing surrounded the Administration's efforts to eliminate the Advanced Technology Program (ATP). Both Chairman Boehlert and Ranking Member Ralph Hall (D-TX) questioned the wisdom of the continued attempts at gutting the ATP. The witnesses, with the exception of Richard Russell agreed that nanotechnology would need some help to get from the lab to commercial applications. Mr. Marty, the venture capitalist argued strongly that many of nanotechnology's most promising areas might meet an untimely end without the help of a government program.

Summary of HR 766 -- Nanotechnology Research and Development Act of 2003

Establishes a national nanotechnology program to sustain investment in research and development, expand education and training of undergraduate and graduate students, accelerate the commercial application of nanotechnology in the private sector, and ensure that societal and ethical concerns will be addressed as the technology is developed.

Establishes an interagency committee on nanotechnology research and development, chaired by the Director of OSTP, to include representatives from the National Science Foundation, the DoE, NASA, NIST, EPA, OMB, and any other agency that the President may designate. Committee will report annually to Congress. Also establishes an advisory committee to report to PCAST and Congress.

Authorizes funding for Nanotechnology at NSF at $350,000,000 for fiscal year 2004; $385,000,000 for fiscal year 2005; and $424,000,000 for fiscal year 2006. Also authorizes lesser amounts for DoE, NASA, NIST, and EPA.

Full Text of Legislation