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Archive for Sunday, June 28, 2009

House move could delay lab

June 28, 2009

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— Construction of a massive lab in Kansas for research on foot-and-mouth and other diseases could slow down following a House decision to withhold money to build the facility.

The House passed a 2010 homeland security spending bill that did not include the first $36 million to begin building the National Bio- and Agro-Defense lab in Manhattan, Kan.

Instead, the House provided $5 million for an independent study on whether foot-and-mouth disease research can be done safely on the U.S. mainland. The House passed the bill on Wednesday.

“Congressman (David) Price thinks this is critical research and we just want to make sure it is completed safely wherever the facility may be located,” said Phil Feagan, spokesman for Price, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee’s Homeland Security subcommittee.

The money is in the Senate version of the bill, but that legislation still awaits a full Senate vote. Any differences in the legislation will have to be negotiated in a conference committee.

The Homeland Security Department began work during the Bush administration to build a facility for the foot-and-mouth research. That work is now done at a deteriorating lab on Plum Island, N.Y. Kansas was the winner of a national competition for the lab that will also house research on diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans.

Foot-and-mouth research has been confined to Plum Island since 1955 to avoid an accidental outbreak that could lead to the slaughter of millions of livestock. The disease does not sicken humans.

A solicitation for bids issued by the Homeland Security Department estimated the contract award would be made Sept. 7. It estimates construction costs to be $525 million to $575 million. The Homeland Security Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The 2009 spending bill for Homeland Security made release of the money contingent on a study done by the department on the risks of foot-and-mouth research on the U.S. mainland.

The Government Accountability Office, which was required to sign off on the study, told members of Congress the Homeland Security Department’s analysis was flawed. The GAO also had previously rejected an environmental assessment the department had done for the lab.

U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, a Republican, voted against the House bill to protest the withholding of the lab money.

“The House Appropriations Committee had a responsibility to fund the NBAF and I am extremely disappointed they shirked that responsibility,” Jenkins said in a statement.

Sen. Pat Roberts and Sam Brownback, both Kansas Republicans, said Friday they are confident the final Homeland Security Department spending bill will include the construction money.

“NBAF is a top priority for us,” the senators said in a statement.

Kansas has committed $110 million of its money to building the lab.

The research lab has faced other controversy. A Texas group that competed for the lab has sued the Homeland Security Department, alleging that the agency ignored the high risk of tornadoes when it chose the Kansas site. Some lawmakers also have previously raised concerns about whether there is sufficient regulation of biosecurity labs in the U.S.

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