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Future visions for government oversight

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Terry Davies, a senior fellow at Resources for the Future in Washington, D.C., envisions a new federal agency larger than the EPA with a staff of 43,500 and budget of roughly $18 billion. It would incorporate six existing agencies: EPA, U.S. Geological Survey, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, and Consumer Products Safety Commission.

“The current government oversight system tries to focus on both materials and products, often varying by agency, but this hodgepodge serves neither goal very well,” Davies wrote in an April 2009 report titled “Oversight of Next Generation Nanotechnology” for the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars.

Davies believes oversight should encompass the entire life cycle of a product and that the stringency of regulations should relate to the likelihood and severity of any anticipated harm caused by the product.

“The industries involved are diverse, and some support more regulation while others don’t,” he says. “The public, I think, does, although the extent of knowledge is an important variable.” Davies has not had formal discussions with any agencies, but has met informally with officials, including the new head of the EPA’s policy office. He intends his proposals to function as a catalyst for discussion and has presented them in seminars at Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pennsylvania and in London at a meeting convened by the European Commission and another convened by The Royal Society.

“In the long run, an international regime for product oversight may develop to match the international trade in products,” Davies states in his report. “At least, U.S. and European regulatory approaches should be made consistent. In the interim, the emphasis should be on information sharing.”

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