Nanotechnology Bill Would Have Obama Think Small

The U.S. House of Representatives Technology Committee has reintroduced legislation to reauthorize the National Nanotechnology Initiative and beef up environmental and health research related to nanotechnology. The bill is essentially the same one overwhelmingly passed by the full House last fall.

It never made it though the Senate, thanks to the economic meltdown, the election, and the indictment of Ted Stevens (R-AK), which forced a shuffle of committee assignments among lawmakers in the Senate. Now the issue of how carefully the government should scrutinize nanotechnology will in large part be up to the new president.

Even if the house nano bill had made it, it wasn't clear whether President Bush would have signed off. Administration officials lobbied successfully to have some provisions removed from the bill, which was reintroduced last week, such as the requirement for spending a specified percentage of NNI funds on environmental, health, and safety (EHS) research.

But other controversial provisions remain, including the requirement to appoint an associate director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy to be the coordinator—or, if you like, NanoTzar—for all EHS research across the 25 federal agencies that are part of the NNI.

Another sore spot: The bill creates a standing advisory committee for EHS matters, stripping it away from the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Even though PCAST has a higher profile, and thus is more likely to be able to bend the President's ear, they have less hands on expertise in nano-EHS research.

So, now team Obama will have to decide soon whether they're comfortable with the House bill or to push for changes in the Senate.