Bond – Phil Bond – acts as president’s chief nanotech agent

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WASHINGTON, April 16, 2003 – Compared with telecommunications, information technology or biotechnology, nanotechnology is small potatoes.


And roasted, mashed, boiled, buttered or showered with salt – it doesn’t matter to Phil Bond. He likes all of it.

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As the U.S. Department of Commerce’s undersecretary for technology, Bond has influence within the Bush administration. He may spend a lot more of his time dealing with officials from much bigger swaths of industry, but he has elected to adopt nanotechnology as a pet – and a prominent – interest.


With his smile and his fine suits, his ease in public and his perfect, stiff sweep of hair, Bond, 46, could easily pass for an elected official in the nation’s capital.


Like a corporate chieftain or a senator, his days are scripted down to the minute. He forces nanotechnology into the mix because “when you look out a few years, this is where the action is going to be, so we want to do everything to prepare the way, so that we have smooth sailing and American leadership,” he said during an interview in his grand, aggressively neat office near the White House, where a big flat-screen television broadcasting news dominated a wall.


Bond can’t throw money at startups, and he doesn’t dictate government policy toward nanotechnology. Instead, he uses the bully pulpit. His office studies the state of nanotechnology research and development in the United States and surveys what’s going on around the world. It examines impediments to rolling out nanotechnology products and it scrutinizes what works.


With this measure of data ballast, Bond helps shape debates over nanotechnology within the administration, and with increasing frequency he also takes the nano show on the road, pledging the administration’s commitment to nanotechnology at conferences and speaking engagements around the world.


On a recent weekday afternoon in a downtown Washington conference room, Bond, dressed in pinstripes and a bright gold tie, stood before about 40 nanotechnology advocates and he delivered his nanotechnology stump speech.


“This next revolution is at least as fundamental as the IT revolution has been,” he said. “This will be transforming, revolutionary. It is not hyperbole to say it will change everything, every facet of industry.


For now, federal government support is vital to the health of the industry. President Bush has proposed spending $847 million on nanotechnology, through the National Nanotechnology Initiative, in 2004.


“The care and feeding of Phil Bond is very important to this industry,” said Scott Cooper, manager of technology policy for Hewlett-Packard Co.


Prior to coming to the Bush administration, Bond, a California native who lives in Virginia with his wife and two daughters, had worked as an HP lobbyist. He also spent years toiling on Capitol Hill for different lawmakers and doing policy work for Vice President Dick Cheney, who was then secretary of defense.


Bond said he was introduced to nanotechnology by Stan Williams, director of quantum science research at HP Labs. He and Williams made the rounds on Capitol Hill, talking up technology, and Bond said he found Williams’ riffs on nanotechnology beguiling.


“Having Phil Bond at Commerce is crucial,” Williams said. “He understands what is fluff, what is garbage and what is real. That is key. And the fact that he can put a voice to it and explain it a lot better than a lot of technologists working in the area ” gives this a visibility that few other people could possibly give.”


For now, Williams said, one of Bond’s chief responsibilities in nanotechnology is making sure that government commitments already made don’t wither. The extremely tight federal budget has put science funding in “a very uncomfortable situation,” he said.


“It would be extremely easy for someone to say nanotechnology isn’t going to happen for a decade, so we can always back off on that now,” he said, which would hobble the field just as it starts getting some muscle.


In the partisan hothouse of Washington, even administration foes find it hard to find fault in Bond. Rob Atkinson, director of the Progressive Policy Institute’s Technology and New Economy Project – a centrist Democratic think tank, said he “commends” Bond for embracing nanotechnology.


The Bush administration’s plan to boost the nanotechnology budget, however, “says more about nanotechnology than the administration,” he said. “Nanotechnology is gaining a real sort of following; it’s seen as the next big thing. Any administration that ignores nanotechnology would do so at their peril.”


Having Bond investing a balance of his own credibility in nanotechnology is “a huge deal,” said Mark Modzelewski, executive director of the NanoBusiness Alliance. “So far in the administration, as much great work as there has been, it’s basically been scientists. But now that nanotechnology’s potential is seen as economic development, having him is incredibly powerful. He talks about it from a business and economic standpoint ” He really helps get all of these foundations in place to make it an industry.”


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