Restore funding for NBAF

By Walt Braun

President Barack Obama has made a mistake, a major one, in omitting funding for NBAF from his new budget.

It is a mistake not because losing NBAF would be a major jolt to Manhattan’s economic outlook, though it most certainly would be. Nor is it a mistake because not building the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility would be a blow to the entire state and considerably undermine development of the bio-agricultural corridor.

Rather, it is a mistake because the United States needs NBAF.

Our country needs outstanding scientists and a state-of-the-art facility for research essential to ensure a safe food supply and our national security. As the Department of Homeland Security’s website notes, NBAF involves a “strategic partnership” between DHS and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Its mission is to study foreign animal, emerging and zoonotic diseases that threaten U.S. livestock and public health. The mission includes developing countermeasures, including vaccines and rapid response measures to control an outbreak. NBAF would be vital in countering biological threats to humans as well as other animals.

As First Congressional District Rep. Tim Huelskamp, who toured the NBAF site for the first time Monday, said, “The type of research that would be conducted at NBAF has to be done, and no time can be wasted in getting it started. Washington has already agreed that NBAF is imperative for our national security — particularly that of our food supply.”

He joined the entire Kansas Congressional delegation and Gov. Sam Brownback in condemning the president’s decision to cut NBAF funding. They’re right in describing as “needless” and “a waste of taxpayer dollars”  the administration’s decision to study yet again the need for NBAF to protect our food supply.

They’re also right in saying that the “evidence is clear” that the United States needs a “cutting-edge biosecurity level 4 facility” and in pointing out that “Kansas has won every competition, met every standard and proven its commitment to this project.”

As jarring as the president’s decision to cut NBAF funding is, it’s not final. A struggle looms, certainly. The expenditure itself — about a half-billion dollars — is a tempting target in tough budgetary times. Also, New York Democrats will do what they can to sway the president to keep the facility at Plum Island operating —despite objective conclusions that it is obsolete. And Texas sees the president’s decision as a second opportunity to win the facility.

There’s a lot going on and the stakes are high for the country, the state and Manhattan. We’re confident that our congressional delegation will do everything in its power to persuade the president , who previously supported NBAF, to recognize its importance.

If this Democratic president won’t listen to Kansas Republicans, perhaps he’ll listen to officials in his Department of Homeland Security. They’re convinced of the need for NBAF, and they’re convinced it should be in Manhattan.

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