Hidden Drama at Congressional Hearings to Reauthorize NNI

Despite all the cordial words and statesman-like testimony, one has to imagine that there was some tension when Mr. Floyd Kvamme, the co-chair of the Presidentâ''s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), and Dr. Andrew Maynard, the Chief Scientist at the Project for Emerging Technologies (PET), sat at the same witness table to provide testimony to the House of Representativesâ'' Science and Technology Committee on reauthorization of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI).

You may recall when this blog brought attention to Maynardâ''s assertion on his blog that Kvamme was â''cherry pickingâ'' intelligence when it came to the Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) concerns over nanoparticles.

In his testimony, Maynard hammered again at the idea that not enough funding was going to research for EHS issues of nanotechnology:

â''â'¿in 2006, the federal government spent an estimated $13 million on highly relevant nanotechnology risk research (approximately 1% of the nano R&D budget), compared to $24 million in Europe, despite assurances from the NNI that five times this amount was spent on risk related research in Fiscal Year 2006.â''

With Maynard bumping the number of nanotechnology-enabled products on PETâ''s list from 500 to 600 the urgency has increased (at least 20%), and it seems it has caught the attention and support of the Democratic leadership of the Committee.

"Although the NNI has from its beginnings realized the need to include activities for increasing understanding of the environmental and safety aspects of nanotechnology, it has been slow to put in place a well designed, adequately funded, and effectively executed research program to address this issue," said Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN). "The environmental and safety component of NNI must be improved by quickly developing and implementing a strategic research plan that specifies near-term and long-term goals, sets milestones and timeframes for meeting near-term goals, clarifies agenciesâ'' roles in implementing the plan, and allocates sufficient resources to accomplish the goals."

And what may that strategic research plan be, you might ask. Well, Rep. Gordon likes Andrew Maynardâ''s plan as it was written up in a paper for Nature: â''Safe Handling of Nanotechnologyâ''.

â''This paper should be a landmark in the history of nanotechnology research. It lays out a clear, reasonable, prioritized, consensus-based set of priorities for examining the potential environmental and health consequences of nanotechnology over the next decade and a half,â'' said Gordon in a November 2006 press release. â''This paper should eliminate any remaining excuses for inaction in this vitally important area.â''

It's lovely when it all works out so well for all involved.

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