Views from Kansas: Fight for NBAF support
Editor’s Note: Views from Kansas is a regular feature that highlights editorials and other viewpoints from across the state.
State and federal officials toured the National Bio- and Agro-defense Facility in Manhattan last week, and the news from the visit is mostly good: NBAF is expected to be complete a little earlier than expected — 2021 instead of 2022.
The $1.25 billion federal zoonotic (animal-to-human) disease lab is about two-thirds of the way finished now, but questions remain after the White House last spring announced ownership of the facility would shift from the Department of Homeland Security to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
NBAF was conceived post-Sept. 11 to prepare for possible biological and agricultural threats. Its predecessor, the Plum Island lab in New York, was previously organized under the USDA, but after 9/11 it shifted to DHS, and it made sense for NBAF to be in that department, too, given the emphasis on safety and the dangerous pathogens researchers will handle.
USDA is set to take over ownership and management of the facility when it is commissioned in 2021.
We’re not sure what effects this change of command will have on the NBAF budget.
Kansas’ two senators, Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran, sounded positive about the move when they spoke. Roberts said the farm bill, currently under negotiation, will include “significant money” to establish a vaccine bank, which would be valuable for NBAF.
And Moran said he still sees a close relationship between the two departments.
“It doesn’t really diminish the importance of the facility’s role for national security and the role that the Department of Homeland Security will play,” he said. “In some ways, it is a decision about who’s going to be ‘in charge,’ but it doesn’t change the mission in any way.”
That said, will NBAF’s operational funding be more likely to face cuts when it’s part of the agriculture budget rather than the homeland security budget?
Former Gov. John Carlin wrote on his blog in March that he’s concerned about the shift.
“Keep in mind, Agriculture has crop insurance and food assistance programs that always generate intense interest and questions when it comes to budgeting,” he wrote. “Will NBAF face operational cuts in order to satisfy those other legitimate needs? And remember, it looks pretty clear that the (Trump) administration is moving to get its money for the wall by shifting the dollars from existing current needs within Homeland Security to fund wall construction.”
Carlin likened the situation to moving the K-State women’s basketball coaching staff to the football program to get money for an unrelated project, which he said doesn’t make sense.
We agree that people in Kansas and those who represent us must at least keep asking the tough questions to make sure the facility for which we fought so hard will be funded and managed properly.
— Originally published in The Manhattan Mercury