An occasional blog on nano-related legislative and policy events from inside the Beltway and their relevance to the NISE Network.
The National Nanotechnology Initiative Amendment Act has not exactly taken a high priority in the 111th Congress, especially set against the backdrop of the economic turmoil of the last six months. July 6th's nanotech caucus briefing, titled simply “Understanding the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI),” is the first hint in months that this piece of legislation may be ready to move after being stalled for almost a full year. So what are the various versions of the NNI Amendment Act, and where do they stand?
In DC, there is a special season inserted in the early part of the year. It falls just after the start of a new Congress and runs right up to the Cherry Blossom Festival. No, it is not 8th grade civics class field trip season - that comes later.
After getting stalled in a Senate committee last summer, H.R. 5940 (the NNI Amendments Act) languished as the failing economy took front page. The only “new” news about the NNI was the relatively dour National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report of December, 2008. Now, in the early days of the 111th Congress, the National Nanotechnology Initiative Amendments Act of 2009 has been introduced by the House Science and Technology Committee. Will this be smooth sailing for the NNI through Congress?
With all the media attention devoted to bailouts and the Senate replacement scandal, the stalled process of NNI reauthorization tends to fall under the radar. On Dec.11, however, the National Academies released an executive summary reviewing the federal strategy of risk-assessment and management related to the environmental, health, and safety implications of nanotechnology. Does the NNI have a robust strategy in place to minimize risk to society from nanotech development? Not according to the review.
One thing that's hard to appreciate if you don't live around the Beltway is the sheer number of job changes that occur in DC after a major election. Not only will the presidency change hands in 2009, but a fair number of new legislators are coming to Congress. Add to that all of the appointees of a new administration, their related hires, staffers, aides, and interns, and it's a mini population shift. This can only mean a positive change for science and technology policy.
In Harry Kroto's words, kids today live in a GYW world, an environment ruled by the three dominant applications that allow instantaneous access to a world of information: Google, YouTube, and Wikipedia. But information doesn't equal knowledge, and this easy access belies generations of innovation built on the observation of forces and processes of the natural world accompanied by repeated manipulation and experimentation.
The Wilson Center’s Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies recently released the results of their third annual phone survey about nanoawareness in the US general public. The first awareness poll, conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates, Inc. and reported in 2006, indicated that only 30% of the American public had heard something about nanotechnology. So how much of an increase has there been in public awareness about nano in the past two years?
The venue for the September FDA Nanotechnology Public Meeting was almost 20 miles outside of DC, at a new satellite campus of the University of Maryland. Despite the distance and an impossibly inconvenient public transportation route, the rooms were filled with about 300 of the same suits and skirts you’d see at any downtown DC meeting. What kind of “public” is this anyway?