In legislative terms, a markup is a special session held to amend a bill. The National Nanotechnology (NNI) Amendment Act was scheduled for markup in the House Committee on Science and Technology  at 11 am on May 7, 2008, in Rayburn 2318. Most of the amendments were related to education, so I thought I should observe this step of the process - even though I'd been warned that it was totally unpredicable how long this process might take.
You never know what kind of line you might face at the security gates in Congress, and I had arrived punctually at other sessions only to be without a seat, so I left in plenty of time to get to the committee meeting room. I was there and seated slightly before 11, with time to reread the amendments  as I waited for the members to file in.
May is still school group visit season in DC and just at 11, a group of 15 8th graders slid into seats all around me. After years of working with kids on the floor of a science center, I had no problem chatting them up, to the mild annoyance of their chaperones. They were from California - Silicon Valley - learned nothing about nano in their schools, but knew a little bit about it from TV, the Web, and popular culture. They were also on a tight schedule, and within 5 minutes were rounded up and herded out the door by their wrangler, who was eager to move onto the next stop (probably lunch). I looked up at the wall clock and was surprised to see it was after 11:20 – still no committee members.
Afraid I had screwed up the time, I looked around the room. There were 20 or 25 other spectators like me. Some of them held binders that had “Hearing on the NNI” printed in large letters on the spine. Others had picked up the press materials, and were texting or reading to kill time. Obviously this was the right place and time.
11:30…11:45…12:00…You know when you are waiting for a bus, then give up convinced it’s not coming only to have it drive up after you are out of shouting distance? I was positive something like that would happen if I got out of my seat. Now I really wanted to see the markup session, if only to explain why I had been out of the office for so long.
Bored, I looked around the room at the décor – the curtains, the upholstery, anything. For the first time, I noticed two inscriptions on either side of the chamber wall behind the podium. “Where there is no vision, the people perish” Proverbs 29:18. Huh? Biblical passages in the House? The other quotation was at least more poetic: “For I dipped into the future, as far as I could see. Saw the vision of the world and all the wonder that would be.” Tennyson. Appropriate to a room for deliberating about science and technology, sure. But I was vaguely annoyed that there wasn’t an American author selected for these passages.
A handful of representatives finally drifted into the room around 12:15. At 12:20, Chairman Gordon gave his opening remarks . A few other members added their verbal support, after which the bill was considered read.
Ms. Eddie Bernice Johnson , of Texas’s 30th District, was given 5 minutes to introduce and explain her suggested amendment: that at least one member of the new advisory panel mandated by the bill should be employed by and represent a minority-serving institution.
Ms. Johnson also added specific wording that the Education and Societal Dimensions Program area should include education regarding the environmental, health and safety, and other societal aspects of nanotechnology.
Then it was the turn of Mr. Brian Baird  of Washington’s 3rd District. He added that agencies should provide Internet access from nano research facilities to secondary school students and their teachers, as well as procedures and technical support to use these facilities. Mr. Baird also suggested additional wording to ensure networking and remote access capabilities of nano research facilities
Five minutes later, a verbal vote approved the bill as amended and HR 5940 was recommended for the calendar for the full House as soon as possible. Total session time from order to adjournment: 20 minutes! (Not counting 100 minutes of waiting time)
What are the implications of these amendments for the NISE Network?
- It is valuable for the Diversity, Equity and Accessibility Task Force to build contacts with historically black colleges and universities and with Hispanic communities. Representation on the Advisory Panel will ensure a concern with products and programs directed to underserved minorities.
- Topics of environmental, health and safety and societal issues of nanotech will continue to provide fodder for forums and public discourse.
- A question: Can science museums and centers provide central locations for remote access to nano research sites for secondary schools and their teachers? Is this a possible expansion path for formal/informal education collaboration?