Oct. 22, 2004 - While the potential election of Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts to the White House may bring major changes to many U.S. policies, don't expect nanotechnology to be among them.
Nanotechnology industry officials have given President Bush high marks for signing into law last year a bill that authorizes nearly $3.7 billion for nanotech research over four years. His opponent, Kerry, also has promised to provide strong support for the initiative.
If there are differences, they will likely be in the degree of funding they seek for the initiative and in how the two candidates regulate the industry.
In laying out his technology agenda this summer, Kerry listed nanotechnology among the "industries of the future" in which he would increase research funding. Tom Kalil, who is advising the Kerry campaign on science and technology issues, said potential topics range from clean energy programs that include nanotech-based photovoltaics to medicines that use nanobiotech tools to quickly sequence the human genome.
"John Kerry specifically calls for increasing investment in nanotechnology R&D beyond the level proposed by President Bush," said Kalil, a former Clinton administration official who now works as a special assistant to the chancellor for science and technology at the University of California, Berkeley.
Bush's budget request for fiscal year 2005 did not provide as much money as was authorized by the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act, though Kalil could not say whether Kerry would, either.
Daniel Ritter, a partner at the law firm Preston, Gates and Ellis who has briefed the Kerry campaign on nanotechnology issues, said it would be difficult for either Bush or Kerry to provide additional funding for nanotechnology, given the fiscal restraints facing the government.
"I don't see very significant changes with a turnover…(to) a Kerry administration," Ritter said.
Kerry has promised to provide $30 billion in funding for science and technology initiatives, including nanotechnology. The money would be generated by selling spectrum given to broadcasters to convert to digital television.
Kalil argues that Kerry's overall science and technology agenda provides a "stark contrast" to Bush. Kalil pointed to a study by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which claimed that Bush's most recent five-year budget proposal would cut funding for most science agencies.
Richard Smith, president of the advocacy group Nanotechnology Network, said he expects there may be "more emphasis on nanotech development" under Kerry than he has seen with Bush. Bush favors eliminating funding for the Advanced Technology Program, which supports development of high-risk research. Kerry has said he would continue funding the program.
Kerry likely would direct more nanotech funding than Bush to agencies charged with regulating health and the environment. "I think as a general rule you would expect to see more regulation on health and safety and the environment (from a Democrat) than you do with an anti-regulatory Republican administration," said Ritter, a Democrat.
Bush is in the process of outlining his second-term agenda, said John Bailey, deputy policy director for the Bush campaign. He would not comment on whether Bush would propose new nanotech initiatives. Bailey said Bush "has been a leader in the area of nanotech," noting that nanotechnology R&D funding has doubled since 2001.
He also denied that Bush plans to cut funding for science and technology, saying "we can expect to see the president provide the increases to his priorities such as education, homeland security and R&D. Nanotechnology remains a priority for President Bush."
Undersecretary of Commerce for Technology Phillip Bond, who has been among the administration's chief promoters of nanotechnology, said in a second term he would like to see the agencies "enable and look out beyond the horizon to maximize" the capability to move to nanomanufacturing.