Yesterday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a statement indicating that the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) previously overestimated FY 2006 federal funding of nano-related EHS research by about 18%: "Nanotechnology: Accuracy of Data on Federally Funded Environmental, Health, and Safety Research Could be Improved."

NNI reported that federal agencies spent a total of $37 million in FY 2006 researching the potential EHS risks of nanotechnology.  GAO found that this figure was off by about 18%, and that 22 of the 119 projects identified by NNI had little to do with how nanotechnology may pose EHS risks.  Rather, GAO found the studies were primarily related to detecting or remedying environmental hazards unrelated to nanotechnology.  For those keeping score, 20 of the mislabeled projects were sponsored by NSF, two were sponsored by NIOSH, and funding totaled approximately $6.5 million.  On the other side of the coin, GAO also found that NNI failed to capture some ongoing federal nano-related EHS research in its estimate "because the agencies that conduct this research do not systematically track it as EHS-related."  GAO could not value this research.

GAO attributed any mistakes to a federal reporting structure that does not allow easy categorization of research projects, and also to a lack of guidance to agencies regarding how to correctly apportion funding across multiple topics for reporting purposes.

GAO’s statement concludes:

Federal Funding for studying the potential EHS risks of nanotechnology is critical to enhancing our understanding of these new materials and we must have consistent, accurate, and complete information on the amount of agency funding that is being dedicated to this effort.  However, this information is not currently available because the totals reported by the NNI include research that is more focused on uses for nanotechnology, rather than the risks it may pose. . . [T]he inventory of projects designed to address these risks is inaccurate and cannot ensure that the highest-priority research needs are met.