The past few months have seen a lot of change for many of us. For our U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) team working behind the scenes to move into the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) here in Manhattan, one of the biggest changes has been our morning commute. There isn’t one!
While our colleagues with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have stayed busy moving forward with construction on the NBAF site, most of our USDA NBAF team has been under maximum telework since mid-March to slow the spread of COVID-19.
We’re so grateful for our colleagues at USDA and many of our NBAF team members who have gone above and beyond helping us adapt to this temporary “new normal.”
One department that is especially significant in our ability to continue moving forward is our Information Technology (IT) unit. This unit has made the transition to telework possible by ensuring we have secure networks, access to teleconference platforms, and everything else we need to work from home. And as we interview and hire new team members virtually, they have ensured our newest staff are equipped to dive in and get to work.
Scott Farris, NBAF’s IT director, has 27 years’ experience with USDA supporting technology for laboratories and biocontainment facilities. Scott was even involved in the startup of two other lab facilities and has been involved in supporting the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) mission at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center since 2008.
As you can imagine, the IT unit for NBAF has many critical roles. In addition to supporting the desktop and telecommunication needs of all NBAF employees, the team will also be responsible for laboratory equipment support, audio/visual needs, network and security engineering, system administration, project management, and cyber security—to name a few.
All systems at NBAF are designed with redundancy in mind, including IT systems; so, if one system fails, another is ready to back it up. Many of these systems are restricted and isolated to protect facility operations.
During this time of maximum telework, some personnel from our IT unit have continued participating in activities on the NBAF site, including installing the basic network and server infrastructure. Several members of our Facilities unit have also continued work on site doing training and commissioning on equipment and building systems. So far, we have hired 195 of the 269 operations positions for USDA NBAF and expect to have a total of about 400 team members on board by the end of 2023. We’ve announced several jobs recently on USAJobs (www.usajobs.gov) to include everything from animal caretakers to laundry technicians to science positions.
The DHS Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) is reporting that worker population on the NBAF site is down to about 200 construction personnel per day, and the project is still on budget having spent about 90 percent of the $1.25 billion as of the end of April.
Due to the impacts of COVID-19 on labor and material availability, they’re still forecasting a potential 2.5-month delay in completion of NBAF construction, which was scheduled for December 2020. Until there’s some degree of stabilization of the issues leading to the delay, DHS S&T cannot provide a more reliable forecast.
We’re excited to announce that we have set up both Twitter (USDA_NBAF) and LinkedIn (usda-nbaf) accounts to have even more ways to communicate all the work that will be done at NBAF.
Please follow us on these platforms to see even more timely updates about the facility and our progress. Additionally, while our traditional outreach activity has slowed down due to the pandemic, we want to remind everyone that we’re still available to share with community groups and organizations using virtual tools — and as things continue to open up, we hope to be able to join your groups in person. As a reminder, all NBAF inquiries and outreach requests can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Katie Pawlosky is the communications coordinator for NBAF.