Topeka — When the process was under way to evaluate competing sites for the proposed federal biosecurity lab, it was Kansas officials who publicly fretted about states with more political clout, such as Texas.
After all, a Texan — President George W. Bush — was in the White House, and the Texas congressional delegation outnumbers Kansas’, 34-6.
But behind the scenes, it was Kansas officials who were unfairly politicking, according to an allegation from the Texas group that was beat out by Kansas in the bid to win the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility.
The charge is among several leveled in a 50-page filing in federal court.
The Texas consortium of research institutions, business groups and governmental entities is asking the court to set aside the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s decision to build NBAF on the Kansas State University campus.
The Texas consortium says the laboratory, which will be devoted to research on deadly pathogens, should be built in San Antonio, which ranked second among six finalist sites for the facility.
During the site selection process, DHS officials set up procedures to restrict contact with representatives promoting their location in order to protect against undue influence, the Texas consortium said.
But the Texas group says Kansas didn’t play by the rules. “High-level Kansas elected officials, including Governor Kathleen Sebelius and Senators (Pat) Roberts and (Sam) Brownback also lobbied Undersecretary (Jay) Cohen directly in an effort to induce him to select the Manhattan, Kansas, site for the NBAF,” the filing said.
Sebelius’ office said she did not meet with Cohen during his visit to Kansas, but she and other state officials met with him in Washington, D.C., which was widely reported at the time. “These meetings were during an appropriate time in the process,” said Sebelius’ spokeswoman, Beth Martino.
Martino said that because part of DHS’ evaluation criteria included the support of public officials, it only made sense that Kansas officials present a unified effort to the agency.
“We are proud of the level of involvement and cooperation Kansas leaders of both parties displayed, and we are ready to help defend America’s food supply through the NBAF mission,” she said.
Other allegations by the Texas group included:
• Tornadoes in Kansas make the proposed site too risky. Damage or destruction of the facility by high winds could release deadly diseases that would devastate the cattle industry;
• The San Antonio site actually scored higher than any of the other sites, and DHS erroneously concluded that the Kansas site had superior research capabilities to San Antonio;
• DHS gave undue weight to Kansas’ financial offering to defray construction costs.