NBAF funds in federal budget

By Bryan Richardson

President Barack Obama’s proposed fiscal year 2014 budget includes $714 million in federal funding for construction of the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF).

The biosafety level 4 facility is slated to be built in Manhattan, replacing Plum Island Animal Disease Center as the nation’s lead facility for large animal research.

Advocates for the facility consider inclusion of the request in Obama’s proposed budget to be a significant development considering the president didn’t have any money for NBAF in his proposed budget last February.

It also continues the streak of good news for NBAF in 2013. The state of Kansas transferred the NBAF site to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in January.

DHS awarded the contract for construction of the facility’s central utilities plant in February. That construction is expected to be completed in two and a half years.

Sen. Pat Roberts announced inclusion of the funds Wednesday following a briefing with DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano. He noted that inclusion of the funds doesn’t mean that amount ultimately will be appropriated since Congress will still need to approve it.

But he noted that NBAF has never had this much monetary support in any version of a budget.

“It does indicate a commitment from the administration and DHS finally that we’re going to go ahead with this project,” Roberts said. “The administration has decided to go full steam ahead.”

Assuming the request is funded, Roberts anticipates that construction will begin in 2014 and continue through 2020. He said this would likely be the entire federal contribution to the project, with state bonding authority representing the remainder.

“The rest of it will be determined with the infinite wisdom of Gov. (Sam) Brownback and the state legislature with bonding authority,” he said.

Roberts said he isn’t sure what amount the state will commit, but he’s aware of discussions among Brownback and leaders from both parties in the state legislature about this issue.

The project’s estimated cost has been put at around $1.14 billion. A total of $861 million would be in place for construction with the passage of the president’s proposed budget.

In addition to the potential $714 million, there is $67 million left from FY10 and FY12 appropriation bills and $80 million for the central utilities plant – $40 million from federal government and $40 from a state match.

The overall need for the facility has been repeatedly stated by many parties within the government, education and science communities. Funding and risk assessments have been the issues.

When KSU was originally chosen as the site late in 2008, the cost was estimated at about $625 million, but that cost has risen as delays have pushed the schedule back from having the facility operational in 2018.

DHS reassessed the feasibility of the project in 2012 due to a request from Obama.

A July 2012 report from a National Research Council (NRC) committee that addressed the reassessment issue said NBAF is an imperative need. The options considered were building NBAF as designed, building a smaller-scale NBAF or working within the current capabilities of Plum Island and other laboratories.

A June 2012 NRC committee report deemed DHS’s updated NBAF site-specific risk assessment as a substantial improvement from a 2010 DHS report, but still inadequate to judge the risks associated with NBAF.

A further risk assessment on the overall safety hasn’t been released.

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