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In 2000, President Clinton launched the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) to coordinate federal R&D efforts and promote U.S. competitiveness in nanotechnology. It is a federal interagency program that seeks to expedite the discovery, development, and deployment of nanoscale science, engineering, and technology to serve the public good through coordinated research and development aligned with the missions of its member agencies.
Congress first funded the NNI in FY2001 and has provided increased appropriations for nanotechnology R&D in each subsequent year. In 2003, Congress enacted the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act. The Act provided a statutory foundation for the NNI, established programs, assigned agency responsibilities, authorized funding levels, and initiated research to address key issues.
Federal R&D investments are focused on advancing understanding of fundamental nanoscale phenomena and on developing nanomaterials, nanoscale device]s and systems, instrumentation, standards, measurement science, and the tools and processes needed for nanomanufacturing.
The NNI informs and influences the federal nanotechnology budget and planning process through its member agencies and through the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), an entity administered by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) that is the principal means by which the executive branch coordinates science and technology policy. The NSTC's Committee on Technology coordinates the NNI under the Nanoscale Science, Engineering, and Technology Subcommittee (NSET). The National Nanotechnology Coordination Office (NNCO), which reports to the Committee on Technology, provides technical and administrative support to the NSET. The NNI, through the NNCO and appropriate agencies, among others, is directed to (1) establish goals, priorities, and metrics for evaluation for federal nanotechnology research, development, and other activities; (2) invest in federal research and development programs in nanotechnology and related sciences to achieve these goals; and (3) provide for interagency coordination of federal nanotechnology research, development, and other activities.
The NNI does not fund research directly; rather, each of its member agencies determines its nanotechnology activities based on its individual mission and priorities. The NNI provides a framework for a comprehensive nanotechnology research and development program by establishing shared goals, priorities, and strategies among member agencies; and providing avenues for member agencies to leverage the resources of all participating agencies. The four goals of the NNI are to (1) advance a world-class nanotechnology research and development program; (2) foster the transfer of new technologies into products for commercial and public benefit; (3) develop and sustain educational resources, a skilled workforce, and the supporting infrastructure and tools to advance nanotechnology; and (4) support responsible development of nanotechnology.
One of the NNI's goals is promoting the responsible development of nanotechnology, an important component of which is the consideration of the ethical, legal, and societal implications associated with nanotechnology research and development, and the development of plans for addressing environmental, health, and safety implications as well. Some of the issues include how applications of nanotechnology research are introduced into society; how transparent the related decision-making processes are; and how sensitive and responsive policies are to the needs of the full range of stakeholders. To help explore the ethical, legal, and societal issues (ELSI) associated with nanotechnology research, NNI agencies support two centers for nanotechnology in society, at Arizona State University and the University of California, Santa Barbara, and also incorporate ELSI components in their new nanotechnology R&D programs.
As of 2010, the NNI member agencies include the Departments of Defense, Education, Energy, Homeland Security, Justice, Labor, State, Treasury, and Transportation; the Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture and Forest Service; the Department of Commerce's Bureau of Industry and Security, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office; the Department of Health and Human Services' Food and Drug Administration, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the National Institutes of Health; the Department of the Interior's U.S. Geological Survey; the Consumer Product Safety Commission; Environmental Protection Agency; intelligence agencies; the International Trade Commission; National Aeronautics and Space Administration; Nuclear Regulatory Commission; National Science Foundation; Office of Management and Budget; and Office of Science and Technology Policy.
- "Ethics" section: Emerging and Readily Available Technologies and National Security-A Framework for Addressing Ethical, Legal, and Societal Issues, at 1-6.
- Nanotechnology: A Policy Primer, at 4-6.
- Nanotechnology: Improved Performance Information Needed for Environmental, Health, and Safety Research, at 2-3, 10-11.