A ‘milestone’ for NBAF

Finally, president proposes funding for facility

By The Mercury

It isn’t often that Kansas Republican leaders approve of something the Obama administration does, but it isn’t often that the president includes funding for the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility in his proposed budget.

Sen. Pat Roberts called the $714 million — and the administration’s support for NBAF — “a milestone.” He cautioned, appropriately, “We’re not there yet.”

But we’re closer, though how close is anyone’s guess, as is the fate of countless other items in the president’s budget. The $714 million for NBAF is an impressive sum, especially considering that cutting federal spending has been a contentious issue throughout the President’s time in office.

It’s not out of the realm of possibilities for the project to be sacrificed to what some politicians — though none, we would expect, in Kansas — might consider greater priorities.

Still, Sen. Roberts, whose political instincts are as astute as any in Washington, said, “What has changed is the commitment to get the job done… The administration has decided to go full steam ahead.”

NBAF will be a state-of-the-art biosafety level 4 facility in which experts will perform research into animal, emerging and zoonotic diseases that imperil U.S. agriculture and human health. It will replace the aging facility on Plum Island, N.Y.

The $714 million in the president’s budget once was more than enough to build NBAF. The latest cost estimate — $1.15 billion — reflects added safety measures, the passage of time and other factors. In addition to the $714 million in the proposed budget, the Department of Homeland Security already has invested almost $200 million in site preparation, risk assessments and other items.

The state’s share will be about $340 million. It includes $105 million already committed as matching funds, $35 million in research funding related to shifting NBAF to Manhattan and about $202 million in additional matching funds that President Obama seeks and that the Legislature has yet to consider. In a statement Wednesday, Gov. Sam Brownback expressed confidence that he and the Legislature will “work to meet the requirements of the president’s request…”

As a Mercury story Wednesday noted, 2013 has been a year of progress for NBAF. In January, the state transferred the 46-acre site near Kansas State University’s Biosecurity Research Institute on Denison Avenue to DHS.  A month later, DHS granted the contract for construction of NBAF’s central utilities plant, the work on which should begin within the next several weeks. Inclusion of the bulk of the funding for NBAF in the president’s budget is a giant step forward.

We’re confident that the entire congressional delegation will work to help their colleagues from other states understand that NBAF is more than a Kansas project — that it is vital to the security of our nation’s food supply and well worth their support.

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