Earlier this year, the Obama Administration suspended plans to build the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) after raising questions about whether the government could afford the $1 billion highly secure laboratory for studying dangerous animal diseases. Now, a new study from the U.S. National Academies suggests a way to rescue the facility: scaling it down and farming out portions of its proposed research to existing animal pathogen labs around the country.
Intended as a replacement for the aging Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York, NBAF has had many run-ins with controversy over the past several years. After the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) chose Manhattan, Kansas, as the site for the lab, the decision was challenged by environmental groups in Kansas that were concerned about accidental or deliberate release of pathogens from the facility. Lawmakers in Texas—one of a number of states that lost a competition to host NBAF—accused DHS of biased decision-making. These and other challenges made it difficult for DHS to secure the required level of funding from Congress to begin construction.
As the political bickering escalated, the estimated cost of the facility ballooned from an initial $450 million to more than $1 billion by the end of last year, in part because of revised design requirements needed to make it safe from tornadoes. Federal officials decided that the price tag was simply unaffordable at a time of government-wide fiscal constraints, and the president's 2013 budget, released in February of this year, did not include a budget line for NBAF, effectively shelving the project.