A senior official from the President’s Office of Management and Budget told two Congressmen he would be mindful of their concerns regarding the cost and safety of the proposed National Bio and Ago-Defense Facility (NBAF) in considering how much to allocate for NBAF in the President’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget.
OMB Deputy Director of Management Jeffrey Zients told Congressmen Tim Bishop and Joe Courtney that the administration was forced to evaluate the proposal for a new large-animal disease lab in the context of current budget constraints.
“We are working within the tight caps on discretionary spending now in place and continuing to seek savings throughout the budget,” Zients said. He also said he appreciated being directed to two National Research Council reports that address the necessity and security of the NBAF.
Congressmen Bishop and Courtney wrote OMB in the fall, requesting the President deny funding for the Department of Homeland Security’s proposed NBAF in the 2014 budget. If that happens, it would be the second year in a row that the White House requested zero funding for the DHS project.
In their letter, Bishop and Courtney argued it was imprudent to fund NBAF given the current fiscal crisis in Washington.
“We hope you agree that the administration cannot justify spending nearly $1 billion, more than double the initial budget of $451 million,” the Congressmen wrote, “to create a massive research facility that would duplicate many functions currently performed by existing facilities.”
Zients told the Congressmen that, given the financial situation in Washington D.C., the Administration will focus on “economic growth, job creation and a strong middle class.”
The list does not mention the risk of emerging animal diseases to the U.S. food supply, which the NBAF addresses.
Congressmen Bishop has long been a critic of the NBAF, but the joint letter reflects growing skepticism about the project in Congress. The question is whether the detractors’ influence is offset by the passionate commitment of Kansas’ delegation and others to see the NBAF project to fruition.