Obama Proposes $714M for Biodefense Project

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The budget proposal President Barack Obama sent to Congress on Wednesday includes $714 million to build a new federal biosecurity lab in Kansas, the largest proposed federal expenditure for the project to date.

Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas said the recommendation signals the administration's support for building the $1.15 billion lab, which will study large animal diseases and develop measures to protect the nation's food supply.

"After almost a decade of work by a whole bunch of folks, this is certainly good news," Roberts said. "We're not there yet, but it's a milestone."

The Department of Homeland Security would build the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility at Kansas State University in Manhattan to replace a facility at Plum Island, N.Y.

Obama's recommendation comes amid federal budget debates about reducing the nation's spending levels and controlling debt, which had prompted some discussion about scaling back the project's size and scope or possibly keeping just the current NBAF research lab in New York.

Roberts said spending and debt issues haven't changed, nor have federal across-the-board cuts of some $85 billion, but he was confident the administration was behind getting the new lab built.

"What has changed is the commitment to get the lab done. The administration is finally coming across," said Roberts, who was to speak with DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano later Wednesday.

Sen. Jerry Moran, also a Kansas Republican, said he would work with Roberts to preserve the funding in the final budget bill, expected to be debated later this summer, "although challenges remain."

Roberts said the proposal will require additional financial commitments from Kansas, which will be worked out by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and legislators. Additional state support hasn't been included in versions of the 2014 Kansas budget legislators are negotiating. Those talks will resume later in April before legislators come back May 8 for the rest of their session.

The governor said he appreciated Obama's recommendation and that he would work with the Legislature to approve the additional state bonding authority before lawmakers adjourn for the year. He said Kansas agreed when it was awarded the project to contribute 20 percent of the cost of construction. Thus far, the state has issued $105 million in bonds and $35 million from the Kansas Bioscience Authority.

"This is the final funding for the project, and that's actually the nice part about what the administration has put in," Brownback said of the proposed federal expenditure.

State officials have long promoted northeast Kansas as a potential site for the lab, seeing it as crucial to efforts to create a strong biosciences industry and create more than 300 well-paying jobs.

Kansas State President Kirk Schulz said Wednesday's budget announcement built on momentum for the project begun earlier this year when Homeland Security awarded contracts for the utility plant.

"The president's budget recommendations solidify our confidence that Manhattan will be a national center for animal health as K-State becomes a Top 25 public research university," Schulz said.

Initial construction at the site will be the 87,000-square-foot utility plant, which will house the lab's heating and cooling systems and emergency power supply. Construction is expected to take more than two years.

Ron Trewyn, Kansas State's vice president for research, said utility plant work would ramp up in the next two weeks, with lab construction beginning in May 2014, depending on final federal funding approval by Congress.

The entire complex will be adjacent to Kansas State's Biosecurity Research Institute, which already conducts research on deadly plant and animal disease that are of a lower level threat than the diseases contemplated to be researched in the federal labs. Officials have contemplated transferring some of the research ongoing at Plum Island to the existing lab in coming years.