Committee on Science and Technology
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Member Speeches :: December 19, 2005

Remarks by the Hon. Mike Honda on the Release of the White Paper of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Nanotechnology

Thank you all for coming today. I’m glad I’m able to be here. I was worried that I would be stuck back in Washington. We made plans to patch me through electronically, but thankfully that wasn’t necessary.

As you all know, I’m very committed to nanotechnology and I’m very committed to California. That’s why I authored the Nanotechnology Research and Development Act with the Science Committee chairman back in 2003. That bill was good for nanotechnology in the nation as a whole, and California was able to benefit from it, too. It focused on basic research and very early stage development, the kind of stuff that happens at national labs like Berkeley, Livermore, and Sandia here in California; at agency research centers like NASA Ames; and in university centers and individual scientists’ labs. Using the funds provided by that bill, researchers have made many new findings and have advanced our understanding of the world at the nanoscale greatly.

But that bill only did a small amount to help out companies big and small take those research results and turn them into products to sell to consumers. And what it did do applied to the nation as a whole, so California only got a part of it. Because I love California so much, I wanted to figure out what I could do to help California in particular be a leader in this area, particularly since it has so many natural advantages already.

That’s why we formed the Blue Ribbon Task Force. We knew enough to know that we didn’t have all the answers on what to do to help California. So we brought in you folks, the experts, so we could pick your brains. I didn’t want to unduly influence or interfere with your deliberations, so I didn’t crash your meetings, but I know how much time and effort you put in to come up with this report and your recommendations.

I really appreciate all of that hard work, and will carefully consider these recommendations as we pursue innovative state and Federal strategies to ensure that nanotechnology thrives in California.

Let me assure you that on the Congressional side, nanotechnology has remained a priority throughout this year that you have been working on this report. Some of you that are here today were with us last week when I held a forum on innovation with Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Zoe Lofgren. We had folks talk about a number of things that we need to do to make sure that America continues to lead the world in innovation. One of the topics discussed that day was nanotechnology. As a growing field where global leadership is still up for grabs, nanotech fits in well with the Innovation Agenda that Democrats announced last month, which is a strategy for keeping the US competitive in the global economy.

It isn’t a partisan issue – nanotech also fits in well with the bipartisan legislation based on the National Innovation Initiative that Senators Ensign and Lieberman recently introduced, and it also dovetails with the Summit on Innovation held by Chairmen Boehlert, Wolf, and Ehlers this month. Know that Congress IS paying attention.

The Science Committee held three hearings on nanotech this year: In May we heard testimony about the challenges facing companies, universities, and national labs that are trying to commercialize nanotechnology.

Witnesses talked about some existing public-private partnerships that can help, but told us there are still obstacles to overcome. In June we had a hearing about the findings and recommendations of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology’s (PCAST) assessment of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), which focused on the US competitive position internationally. One of the things we learned is that the US is a leader in research, but that our foreign competitors are focusing more on the commercialization of those research results than we are.

And in November we held a hearing on the environmental and safety impacts of nanotechnology. There has been a lot of media coverage about this topic recently, much of it the result of a lot of activity on this issue by activist groups. One of the big themes of that hearing was that the success of nanotechnology as a commercial venture depends on truly knowing what the real risks of nanomaterials are. Companies don’t want to put out unsafe products – nothing could be worse for sales. Companies also want certainty about what the regulatory regime will be. They don’t want to see things change midstream.

At all of these hearings, the witnesses raised important issues. But when the hearings were over, I felt like I had more questions than answers. So I’m very pleased that the Blue Ribbon Task Force’s report not only raises these and other important issues, it makes recommendations for actions we can take in these areas. The report makes recommendations on real steps we can take to bridge the innovation/ commercialization gap. It makes recommendations on steps California can take to promote itself as a world nanotechnology leader. And it makes recommendations about how California can lead pioneering efforts to understand and communicate the ethical, environmental and societal implications of nanotechnology.

You all have done your part by writing the report, and we must continue to do ours. I’ve already been working to secure funding for nanotechnology research projects and centers at Santa Clara University and San Jose State University. I pledge to continue this kind of effort and others aligned with the recommendations of the report in order to ensure that California is a leader in nanotechnology.

I hope that you all will continue to work with us over time to help us get it right. Thanks again for all of your hard work and I congratulate you on this fine report.

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