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March 22, 2007

Senate Requests GAO Review of NNI

Lynn L. Bergeson

In a March 15, 2007, letter, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and the Congressional Nanotechnology Caucus requested that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) review the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), which was created to accelerate the discovery, development, and deployment of nanoscale science and technology. For fiscal year 2006, NNI received $1.2 billion in research and development funding, and 22 federal agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), participate in NNI. According to the letter, one key expectation for NNI was “to ensure that adequate attention and research funding was made available to gain a better understanding of the potential environmental, health, and safety (EHS) risks associated with nanomaterials.” The letter states that the Committee and Caucus “are extremely concerned that this has not happened and that there is a lack of transparency with regard to how much federal attention and funding this important aspect of the initiative is receiving.”

To determine the extent to which federal agencies have undertaken EHS research and how they are prioritizing and managing this research, the Committee and Caucus ask GAO to:

  •  Review the extent to which NNI-related resources have been devoted to study the EHS risks of nanomaterials;
  • Identify the key areas of research for which this EHS funding has been used;
  • Determine what processes the Nanotechnology Environmental and Health Implications Working Group uses to prioritize and coordinate these various EHS research efforts; and
  • Review and identify any EHS-related research and regulatory activities, independent of the NNI, that EPA, FDA, CPCS, and OSHA have undertaken, the amount of funding made available for these efforts, and the extent to which information about these efforts has been communicated to the Working Group to ensure that they are considered in the overall research planning processes for the NNI.