The waiting game continues for the National Bio and Agro Defense Facility (NBAF).
During the summer, officials touted the U.S. House approval of $404 million in funding for the biosafety level 4 animal research facility, and the same amount moving toward consideration on the Senate floor.
The process was slated to go through conference committee after a Senate vote to work out the differences in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appropriations bill where the money is housed.
That process is still in the same place in December with no appropriated money nor a decision on when construction of the main lab would start.
U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., said Monday during an appearance in Manhattan that all appropriations bills are being held up by the budget conference committee, which is working to set the overall budget figure.
“They’re resolving the big-picture item of what we can spend,” he said. “If that committee can get its work done by the middle of December, we can get back and start passing appropriations bills.”
The $404 million approved in the House and Senate DHS bills isn’t the full amount needed for the project.
President Barack Obama’s proposed budget committed the remaining $714 million needed for the $1.23 billion facility.
Moran, who is on the Senate appropriations committee, said it has yet to be seen whether construction would actually begin without the full amount. The expectation is for construction of the main lab to start next year.
“The discussion is ongoing at the Office of Management and Budget,” Moran said.
The project has gone through numerous delays due to a slower than anticipated funding process, the project’s escalating cost and the budget disputes in Congress.
The original deadline had construction starting in 2010, but construction of the central utilities plant just began this year after a groundbreaking ceremony in late May.
Moran said he isn’t aware of an appropriations deadline for the main lab construction to begin next year if it can go ahead without the full funding.
NBAF is slated to replace Plum Island Animal Disease Center as the nation’s lead facility for large animal research including foot-and-mouth disease research for the first time on the mainland.
This type of research has led opponents to consider the facility to risky to place in Manhattan because it is a cattle area located in Tornado Alley.
A National Research Council committee never officially signed off on the facility’s safety, calling a 2012 DHS updated site-specific risk assessment “a substantial improvement” but still inadequate.