Kansas disease center's funding debated

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Members of Kansas' congressional delegation say the nation needs the new animal disease center planned for their state.

Rep. Lynn Jenkins, whose district includes the planned site of the facility in Manhattan, Kan., provided a statement saying she was disappointed the president's proposed federal budget doesn't request any money for construction of the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility. But she said the lack of funding in the president's budget proposal, although important, is a suggestion that will likely become "merely a footnote" in the facility's future.

NBAF concept image
Concept image of the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan, Kan. (Courtesy of Perkins+Will Inc.)

"The NBAF is an essential part of the Animal Health Corridor, and there is no part of the country better suited to study the security of our food supply," Jenkins said.

The Department of Homeland Security has planned to build the facility as a replacement for the nearly 60-year-old Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York. A department schedule indicates the start of construction was planned for February 2012.

President Barack Obama's proposed fiscal year 2013 budget indicates Congress provided only $50 million of the $150 million the administration requested for construction of the facility during FY 2012, which ends Sept. 30. The 2013 proposal states that "is insufficient to begin construction on the project." The recent proposal includes no appropriations request for the facility but notes the administration is asking for $10 million toward research at Kansas State University on African swine fever and classical swine fever. The research would complement work at Plum Island.

Jenkins said she is working with appropriations committee and subcommittee chairs to ensure progress on the project, and she's confident her colleagues in the House of Representatives will see that the facility is funded and built.

Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts announced Feb. 15 that the NBAF "would remain a critical funding priority." He said in a hearing for the Senate Agriculture Committee that the federal government has spent more than $100 million toward building the facility, and the state of Kansas has agreed to pay more than $200 million of the facility costs, according to a recording provided by his office.

"In fact, the land where this facility is to be built at Kansas State University has already been cleared of all the buildings and structures," he said.

Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran also indicated in mid-February that members of Kansas' congressional delegation were disappointed the president's proposal didn't include money for the NBAF even though $40 million in previously appropriated federal funds was available for utility work at the facility, which he sees as important to the nation's economic security.

The Department of Homeland Security estimated construction would cost between $525 million and $575 million, according to a 2009 solicitation for contractors at www.fbo.gov. The facility is expected to encompass about 500,000 square feet of space on at least 30 of the 48 acres available and would be similar in size to a 400-bed hospital or a 1,600-student high school, DHS documents state.

Homeland Security officials have also provided a map that indicates they expect the facility will be built near KSU's Pat Roberts Hall, which is home to the existing Biosecurity Research Institute, and Mosier Hall, which houses the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital and the Department of Clinical Sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

Officials with Kansas State University indicated they were working with their congressional delegation, and the proposed budget is one part of the appropriations process.

"We believe Kansas State University will continue to play a vital role in protecting our nation's food supply," the announcement states.

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano told members of Congress in February that her department's Science and Technology Directorate planned to convene a task force this year to assess "whether and for what purpose" such a facility should be constructed. The assessment would include a review of costs, safety, and alternative plans that could reduce costs and ensure safety.

Napolitano's remarks were given to the House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, according to information provided by the DHS.

The administration's proposal documents indicate the $10 million requested for research at Kansas State would help the administration identify and prioritize future needs at the Biosecurity Research Institute and the NBAF. Those plans include public outreach "to ensure that all stakeholders surrounding the facility understand the value of the proposed work and the safeguards in place that ensure the work will be done safely."

DHS information indicates the Plum Island facility has biosafety levels 2 and 3 laboratories and that the Kansas facility would include BSL-2, BSL-3, and BSL-4 laboratories.