It’s not often that a press release comes out under the name of an entire Congressional delegation, even one as ideologically joined at the hip as this group from Kansas.
But that’s exactly what happened last month.
All four Kansas Congressmen, two Senators and even Governor Brownback released a joint statement celebrating the release of $40 million for the construction of an on-site utility plant at the proposed National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF). Kansas State University -- awarded the NBAF by the Department of Homeland Security in 2009 -- is designed to be a top security animal disease laboratory.
But funding’s been in the pipeline for a long time. Congress approved this $40 million for construction of the central utility plant in 2011. That same year, the state of Kansas put up $40 million in matching bonds for this first phase of the NBAF construction (Kansas later approved an additional $105 million in bonds for NBAF).
But this doesn’t secure the future for the $1.1 billion dollar federal project.
In the wake of two national reports that raised questions about the NBAF, Congress has moved cautiously. It gave DHS just a third of what it requested last year.
In 2013, $75 million for NBAF made it through Senate Appropriations, but that budget, of course, never made it to the President’s desk.
The cantankerous climate in Washington, defined today by the fiscal cliff and sequestration, has underscored uncertainty over NBAF’s future.
Congressional opponents like Congressman Tim Bishop of New York are saying Congress shouldn’t be funding NBAF at all. His Long Island district includes the Plum Island Animal Disease Center – the aging lab NBAF is supposed to replace. Congressman Bishop has written a letter to the Office of Management and Budget requesting a cost-benefit analysis of the NBAF project.
Bishop’s communications director, Oliver Longwell, told me in an interview that there had been no response yet from OMB. But he said Congressman Bishop believes there are still too many outstanding questions about NBAF, “in spite of the enthusiasm of the Kansas delegation.”
In Olathe last week, Senator Pat Roberts praised the Department of Homeland Security for releasing this first chunk of funding. “Should DHS finally release federally approved funds that were allocated and appropriated for the specific purpose of building a utility plant for this specific project, the NBAF? You bet they should,” Roberts said.