Tracking NBAF
3:03 pm
Fri March 16, 2012

$1 Billion Price Tag For NBAF

The National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility will cost more than $1 billion when all is said and done, the Department of Homeland Security confirmed today during a conference in Washington, D.C.

And that price tag is becoming a huge sticking point.

The price of NBAF -- the top-security animal disease center proposed for Manhattan, Kan. -- has seemed fluid, with reports over the last few years ranging from $550 million to $850 million.  Rarely has the public heard that constructing the facility would set back taxpayers more than a billion dollars.

But Tara O’Toole, DHS Undersecretary for Science and Technology, delivered the updated cost estimate in her opening remarks for a two-hour teleconference in which the National Academy of Sciences asked about a revised risk assessment for the lab.

O’Toole said the DHS is working closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on plans for the lab, and that it remains a critical priority for both agencies.  But she said her budget on the Science and Technology Committee has been reduced by 50 percent since fiscal year 2010, and she’s faced with a “Hobbesian choice” between pressing for NBAF funding or pursuing the research and development funds necessary for doing modern science.

She also said the project would require “hundreds of millions” of dollars for at least two years in a row, at a time when the agency is trying to make much needed capital improvements and address other homeland security needs.

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano is convinced the country needs NBAF, O’Toole said.  But she also has asked the National Academy of Sciences committee to assess whether the U.S. could instead work toward a smaller, cheaper facility, and if upgrading the Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York is an option.

Much of Friday’s conference, however, was not about the need or location for NBAF. Engineers and veterinarians focused on the mostly esoteric methodology of how DHS calculated risk in its latest assessment.

DHS now says the risk of a pathogen release is less than 1 percent.  Experts with the National Academy of Sciences said the first DHS plan worked out to a risk as high as 70 percent over the 50-year life of the lab.

For more NBAF coverage, visit KCUR's Tracking NBAF page.

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