Officials criticize decision to cut funding

By Paul Harris

President Barack Obama’s decision to cut funding from the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility came on the heels of First District Congressman Tim Huelskamp’s visit to Kansas State’s Biosecurity Research Institute and NBAF Monday. The President’s budget did appropriate $10 million for the Biosecurity Research Institute, while also asking the Department of Homeland Security to review the viability of NBAF.

Huelskamp said NBAF is important to not only Kansas’ farmers, but also the rest of the world.

“Hopefully we can convince the Obama administration to move through on this,” he said. “Our own scientists tell us we need this.”

Part of the concern, Huelskamp said, is that the world will have two billion more people to feed in two decades, intensifying the question of food supply security. “America is the only country poised to meet those needs,” he said. “Something like a foreign animal disease outbreak would not only hurt our ability to export, but to also meet the needs of the U.S.”

The entire Kansas delegation, along with Gov. Sam Brownback, criticized Obama’s decision Monday. The striking of NBAF funding represented a change of direction for the president, who since his election in 2008 has made construction of the NBAF a priority

“For the first time President Obama’s budget fails to provide vital resources for construction of NBAF despite his administration’s overwhelming support for it over the past,” the joint delegation statement said. It characterized his call for reassessment of safety concerns as “a needless effort … a waste of taxpayer dollars.”

Huelskamp said he did not expect the Obama budget to be taken seriously in Congress.  “The president’s last budget got no votes in the U.S. Senate,” he noted, expressing more concern for the Department of Homeland Security’s assessment of the situation. Obama instructed DHS Monday to reassess the need for building the NBAF here.

Gov. Sam Brownback told The Mercury Monday that he believes the project ultimately will be built in Manhattan.

“I think we will get it,” he said. Brownback attributed the President’s budget decision to the current fiscal challenges as well as politics, saying Kansas was better positioned when the Republicans controlled the White House.

Some suggested that Obama’s decision was designed to help a Democratic Congressman whose district includes Plum Island, and who is viewed as being in a tough re-election battle. That congressman has called for scrapping he NBAF and simply upgrading the existing Plum Island facility. DHS considered and rejected that idea in 2008, citing cost issues as a primary reason. DHS determined that the combination of higher labor costs in New York plus the facility’s remoteness would drive construction costs alone above $720 million in 2008 money, a little less than twice the cost estimates at the time for a mainland site.

The governor said he planned to speak with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, whose department oversees the NBAF project, today.

“I’ll get her take on it,” he said.

Huelskamp, too, holds out hope for including funding for NBAF in the 2012 Farm Bill.

“A research title is part of the bill,” he said. “And if you want to talk about basic research to protect our tremendous investment in agriculture, this is the facility that we should be talking about foremost as we discuss the farm bill and the research title.”

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