Sorry for coming a little late to the party on this one, it slipped past us until recently. Back in March the Government Accountability Office, the agency that investigates tax dollar spending for Congress, released a report entitled "Nanotechnology: Better Guidance Is Needed to Ensure Accurate Reporting of Federal Research Focused on Environmental, Health, and Safety Risks."
The report, found here, made several observations and conclusions. Among the highlights are:
- $37.7 million dollars, or 3% of the federally allocated $1.3 billion for nanotechnology research, focused on EH&S risks;
- Of the 119 research projects claiming to focus on EH&S risks, GAO determined that 22 projects, or 20%, did not in fact focus on EH&S risks. Instead, these projects were environmental remediation or hazard identification focused, and the mischaracterization was due to flaws in the classification process (as an aside, GAO conducted a follow-up study to this point, and released a subsequent report in late April entitled: "NANOTECHNOLOGY Accuracy of Data on Federally Funded Environmental, Health, and Safety Research Could Be Improved");
- EH&S research projects conducted in 2006 were "generally consistent" with agency goals;
- Federal agency and NNI efforts to coordinate research activities related to EH&S risks "have been generally effective."
GAO went on to recommend that the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the office that administers the NNI, "provide better guidance to agencies regarding how to report research that is primarily focused on EH&S risks. In commenting on a draft of this report, OSTP generally agreed with the findings and will review the manner in which agencies respond to current guidance." The same recommendations were made in the April report as well.
While not getting to nanotechnology regulations directly, GAO studies are an important indicator of where research dollars are going, and how effectively they are being used. I don’t think the conclusion that better guidance is needed, or that the reporting classifications can stand to be more accurate, comes as any great shock to those working in the sector. However, having the GAO spotlight on the issue will help to resolve the problems and will force affected agencies to examine their processes and methods.