within the NNI for many agencies. All the member agencies see nanotechnology as enabling and the NNI as an important means of nurturing nanotechnology in the agencies, throughout federal R&D, and in R&D throughout the nation, but the agencies have used the NNI and its interagency bodies (the NSET Subcommittee and the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office [NNCO]) primarily as a vehicle for information-sharing and coordination of nanotechnology R&D activities. Program coordination and joint programs with shared resources have been planned and implemented by agencies “as appropriate” only when they support the primary missions of the agencies involved.
The conflict between the guidance from OSTP and OMB to the agencies to strengthen collaboration to meet the NNI goals and the agencies’ interpretation of “as appropriate” is a continuing source of tension between the NNI and those who review it. Entities that support oversight activities, such as the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), which currently serves as the National Nanotechnology Advisory Panel called for by law, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and the NRC panels that have advised and reviewed the NNI, have called upon the NNI agencies, through the NSET Subcommittee and the NNCO, to create long-term collaborations with a shared vision, supported by joint planning, coordination, and management. This sentiment dates back to the 2002 report of the NRC entitled Small Wonders, Endless Frontiers, which made recommendations for the initial organization and management of the NNI. That report included recommendations for the NSET Subcommittee to increase multiagency investments in research, in particular at the intersection of nanoscale technology and biology. This report recognizes the challenges to interagency programming and therefore calls for a special fund for Presidential grants, under OSTP management, to support interagency research programs relevant to nanoscale science and technology. The expectation of interagency collaboration also is reflected, for example, in the 2012 PCAST evaluation of NNI strategic planning: “While the NSET Subcommittee in 2011 produced a ‘National Nanotechnology Initiative Strategic Plan,’ individual agency contributions lack the cohesion of an overarching framework, and there is no clear connection between the goals and objectives of the NNI strategic plan with those of individual agencies.” That observation led the PCAST to recommend, as a first step, clarifying how the NNI fits into agency priorities and programs: “NNCO in partnership with OSTP should work with the agencies to develop implementation plans for achieving the goals and objectives outlined in the 2011 NNI strategic plan.”
The conflict is also reflected in the 2012 GAO report Nanotechnology: Improved Performance Information Needed for Environmental, Health, and Safety Research, in which GAO evaluated NNI environmental, health, and safety (EHS) documents according to its six desirable characteristics for a national strategy, as seen in Table 2.1. The report stated: