Good news for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) — as of Tuesday, a new director, Dr. Alfonso Clavijo, joined the team in Manhattan.

Dr. Clavijo, who holds degrees in veterinary medicine and veterinary microbiology/virology, is no stranger to Manhattan. He previously worked as a research professor for the Department of Diagnostic Medicine and Pathobiology in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University and is familiar with the surrounding community.

Before accepting the NBAF director position, Clavijo served as laboratory executive director of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s National Centres for Animal Disease in Winnipeg, Canada. He also served at the National Centre for Foreign Animal Diseases and Lethbridge Laboratories, where he directed management of biosafety level (BSL) 2-4 facilities focused on the contained study of pathogens that cause foreign animal diseases, including foot-and-mouth, African swine fever, classical swine fever and avian influenza.

As NBAF director, Clavijo will play a key role in ensuring the successful operational standup of NBAF to achieve full operational capability in December 2022, and the full transition of mission functions from Plum Island by August 2023.

With the welcoming of the new director, USDA has achieved a major goal that adds to its hiring success during the 2019 fiscal year. The department is gearing up to continue the hiring process for 2020, with the goal of having 80% of its workforce in place prior to moving into the NBAF facility. Recently, USDA NBAF representatives from both Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) participated in the K-State career fair held in Bramlage Coliseum. The career fair attracted more than 3,000 students over the three days it was held, with NBAF drawing a lot of attention and questions from interested attendees.

Now that Dr. Clavijo is onboard, he will be able to provide additional leadership to enhance the progress already made by USDA working groups to ensure that everything is complete and in place for the anticipated move into the facility.

In other NBAF news, unit leaders of USDA’s Safety, Health and Environmental Management (SHEM), Facilities, Bio-Risk Management (BRM), and Lab Support Services have recently visited BSL3 and BSL4 labs in the United States and have scheduled benchmarking trips to international laboratories in the near future. These valuable site visits and discussions allowed NBAF unit leads to hear best practices and lessons learned during operational standup from each of their facilities. Staffers at these labs shared challenges they’ve faced and offered suggestions of how to mitigate future operational risks. USDA has extended invitations for these partners to visit NBAF in the future with a goal of ongoing collaboration and information sharing.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) continues with its building progress, as facility construction remains on schedule and on budget. Most work is being done indoors with many systems moving into the later phases of their construction. Critical facility systems testing continues, with USDA shadow teams playing an active role throughout. As of the end of August, NBAF construction reached about 84% completion, expending $1.05 billion of its $1.25 billion budget. On-site construction worker numbers have decreased from 650 per day to less than 500. NBAF continues to be on target to meet substantial completion by Dec. 10, 2020, with commissioning complete in May 2021.

Additional NBAF information can be assessed at usda.gov/nbaf, and NBAF hiring information can be found at usajobs.gov.

Ken Burton, DVM, is National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) coordinator.

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