For a statement that says little but speaks volumes about the snail’s pace of progress for the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF), one need look no further than an email last week from a Department of Homeland Security media relations staff member.
“Timelines associated with NBAF are pending ongoing Congressional action on future funding for this and other activities,” wrote the staff member. In other words, NBAF remains on hold until Congress approves its construction funding, and there’s no assurance it will come anytime soon.
That’s all the more troubling because one of the purported hangups, the formal transfer of 46 acres to the Department of Homeland Security, has been completed. That sets the stage for DHS, which has $80 million set aside for the central utilities plant, to go ahead with construction — when it sees fit.
NBAF will be a federal facility where researchers will work to develop countermeasures to animal, human and zoonotic diseases. A biosecurity-level 4 center, it will replace an aging facility on Plum Island, N.Y. Although originally expected to cost $450 to build, estimates for NBAF now run from $650 million to $1 billion.
The facility is projected to create more than 750 construction jobs, employ more than 300 individuals on a permanent basis and have a $3.5 billion economic impact on the state in its first 20 years of operation.
Kansas congressional delegation members are optimistic that ground will be broken within the next couple of months for the utilities plant; 1st District Rep. Tim Huelskamp said DHS already knows which company it wants to do the work.
Last week, when the land transfer was announced, Sen. Pat Roberts said DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano “made clear construction of the central utilities plant would be under way without further delay.”
As the DHS public relations worker’s email indicated in the language of Washington bureaucrats, NBAF is tied up in Congress. More specifically, along with just about anything else that costs money, its fate hinges on budget deliberations. In no small irony, the entire Kansas delegation, which to its credit is working to ensure funding for NBAF, is also committed to cutting federal spending.
Although they’re right in asserting that NBAF will be a vital part of the national defense network, other, more parochial, members of Congress might see NBAF as pork for Kansas rather than an essential national asset.
The land transfer was an important step. It’s one we hope is followed in short order by groundbreaking for the utilities plant and the commitment of enough funding to get this long long-awaited research facility up and running.