Cost of New Biodefense Facility Prompts Concerns

WASHINGTON – A key lawmaker raised concerns on Tuesday about funding construction of a new biodefense laboratory in Kansas amid fiscal constraints facing other aspects of domestic security infrastructure.

Senate Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee Chairwoman Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said, though, she did not question the ultimate need for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility.

“The problem that I have … is to how to pay for such a facility,” Landrieu said during a budget hearing. “Taking $1 billion from other needed capital assets like the Coast Guard or border security to pay for this facility I’m not sure is the smartest way to go.”

The laboratory would conduct research on animal diseases that could threaten human health and the food supply – work that is currently conducted at a more isolated but aging facility on Plum Island, N.Y. The proposed Kansas site has faced skepticism from lawmakers and others who question locating a disease research facility close to a major farming region and whether the Plum Island center could instead be rehabilitated.

In previous years, construction of the new facility was delayed amid budget curbs and the outcome of studies regarding whether it was necessary and whether the proposed location was prudent. The Obama administration requested no funds for the project in the current budget.

The White House is seeking $714 million for construction in the fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1. Total building cost is estimated at about $1 billion. An expected date for the facility to become operational is yet to be determined, according to the Homeland Security Department's website.

Landrieu on Tuesday asked Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano if she would work with the subcommittee “to look for some additional funding mechanisms for a new or innovative funding mechanism to find a way to pay for this asset as opposed to taking out of other critical infrastructure for this department.”

Napolitano acknowledged that demands on her department’s budget for large scale capital investments, including upgrades to the Coast Guard fleet and the bio facility “are very substantial and with sequester and the fiscal environment and the Budget Control Act it is very, very tough out there.” She agreed to work with Landrieu, but suggested a conventional appropriation for the project would have “the most value.”

Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), an ardent supporter of bringing the facility to his state, asked Napolitano to explain why it would be “an expensive proposition” to maintain the existing Plum Island Animal Disease Center rather than construct a new site in Kansas.

Napolitano said the Plum Island facility is not “big enough where plowing a billion dollars into it ultimately makes sense.” She said her department would have to spend some money to upgrade the existing facility in the interim, but that constructing a new site made more fiscal sense in the long term.

April 24, 2013
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WASHINGTON – A key lawmaker raised concerns on Tuesday about funding construction of a new biodefense laboratory in Kansas amid fiscal constraints facing other aspects of domestic security infrastructure.

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