Manhattan Kansas officials answered criticism Wednesday from counterparts in Texas who say the decision to award Kansas a federal biothreat laboratory was flawed.
Texas officials are considering a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security's choice to put the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility at a site in Manhattan near Kansas State University. The federal government plans to spend at least $450 million building the lab, and it's expected to generate billions of dollars worth of jobs and research over the next several decades.
Kansas was awarded the project in a document signed Monday by Homeland Security Undersecretary Jay Cohen. The Associated Press obtained a copy, but the agency hasn't made its decision public — and some Texas officials haven't seen the document.
They contend their state wasn't able to respond to a Homeland Security request to provide state infrastructure investments because legislators weren't in session. The Texas Legislature has regular sessions only in odd-numbered years.
San Antonio was a finalist for the project, along with sites in Georgia, Mississippi and North Carolina. Jim Dublin, chairman of the nonprofit foundation that owns the Texas site, said the Texas Biological and Agro-Defense Consortium would likely sue.
Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas consortium sent letters to the department last week complaining that the 2½-year process to select the lab site was changed at the last minute when the agency asked local and state governments to pony up money to help offset some of the federal government's costs.
"The process was completely changed in midstream by DHS when they basically turned the thing into an auction," Dublin said.
Kansas officials say there was nothing unfair about the process, which included a 30-day comment period after Homeland Security announced in December that Kansas had won the project. That allowed Texas officials to put their concerns in writing.
"We're not sure why this caught them off guard as DHS made it clear that it, 'strongly encourages cost sharing, including cost sharing in kind from state and local jurisdictions, that could be applied toward construction and operations of the NBAF,'" said Nicole Corcoran, spokeswoman for Sebelius.
Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts said the Homeland Security Department made it clear from the outset that a state effort was "strongly encouraged" and could have been developed before the March 31, 2008, deadline. He called threats of lawsuits counterproductive.
"That fact underlines that Texas was not and is not as committed to proper and timely DHS procedures and to bioscience and food safety," the Republican said. "As I've said from the beginning, Kansas wins on the merits. Texas should commit to working with Kansas on behalf of bioscience and food safety."
In its record of decision, the Department of Homeland Security noted that it wasn't until Sept. 26 that Texas submitted a letter saying it would offer in-kind contributions of infrastructure improvements worth at least $56.3 million.
Because that was after the March 31 deadline, Homeland Security officials said they couldn't accept the additions and still keep the process fair.
Further, the department record states that even if the Texas offer were accepted, "The Manhattan campus site would still be the site offering the best value to the government."
Dublin said he expects a Texas consortium lawsuit to challenge Homeland Security's assessment that there was little climate difference between the finalist sites, noting a severe tornado touched down near the Kansas location last year.
"The fact that they seem to ignore the reality of tornado alley is amazing to us," he said.
The comment period for the preliminary selection of the Kansas site expired Monday, the same day the final decision was made, and Dublin said that suggests Homeland Security never intended to take input on its choice.
"The comments were never intended to be analyzed or considered," he said.