Topeka The official who will decide where to build a $450 million federal biosecurity lab was in Kansas for a whirlwind tour Tuesday of the state's two proposed sites.
Jay Cohen, undersecretary for science and technology for the Department of Homeland Security, briefly inspected the Leavenworth and Manhattan sites, which state officials are touting for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility.
Chris Kelly, a spokesman for Homeland Security, said Cohen, a retired rear admiral in the Navy, was visiting each of the 17 proposed sites in 11 states.
"He wants to be able to fully report to Congress his own observations if that subject comes up," Kelly said.
"It was a very quick visit," said James Guikema, an associate provost and biology professor at Kansas State University. Guikema, who has helped prepare the Kansas site proposals, was not part of Cohen's visit but knew about it.
Guikema said Homeland Security was keeping a tight rein on the process.
"They are viewing this is as a procurement-style process. There is a lot of formality involved in it. They have to be very careful about following rules and making sure no favoritism is expressed," he said.
But that hasn't stopped Kansas politicians from lobbying.
Last week, U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., said he discussed with Cohen "the many advantages to having Kansas house the new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility."
Earlier, U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, signed by the entire Kansas congressional delegation, that extolled the state's attributes.
Kansas officials say the state is suited for the high-security lab because of the state's animal and human research capabilities, central location and strong public support.
The lab will be used to research and respond to potential threats to animal, plant and human health.
Kelly said the next step will be when site selection teams, which visited the sites last month, make recommendations to Cohen. By July 1, the number of potential sites is expected to be reduced to three to five, he said.
The winning site will be announced in November 2008.