WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry today fought to improve food security in the United States by securing further commitment from U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack that building a National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) in Manhattan, Kansas, would remain a critical funding priority for the nation.
At a hearing today of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Roberts used his time to discuss the questionable proposal in the Obama Administration’s 2013 Budget to reassess the construction of an NBAF to replace the aging Plum Island facility.
Below is a transcription of the exchange. Video and audio of the exchange can be found here.
Senator Roberts: “Several years ago, Kansas was selected through a competitive process run by the Department of Homeland Security to be the site of the new National Bio and Agro- Defense Facility (NBAF). The purpose of this was to replace the aging Plum Island facility, which, by the way, ranked six out of six of finalists under consideration for the final site selection.
“To date, the federal government has spent over $100 million in design and preparations to build this facility. The state of Kansas has also designated a cost share as part of the proposal as over $200 million. In fact, the land where this facility is to be built at Kansas State University has already been cleared of all the buildings and structures. I know you support the construction of this new facility. I thank you so much for your time when we talked about this, and the dangers to our country and our nation’s food supply and what that threat really poses. As former member and Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, I can assure you that threat still exists. And I know you understand the important need it would fulfill in our agriculture and food security. The Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, our former governor is supportive, and the DHS secretary, Napolitano, has previously toured the site and expressed her support for the project. So, I and most Kansans were surprised, and I think all of agriculture were surprised, stunned actually, when the President’s budget came out on Monday and proposed no construction funds in 2013, and it also proposed a new task force to determine if a new facility is actually needed. Mr. Secretary, do you believe construction of this facility is vital to our nation’s food and agriculture security?
Secretary Vilsack: “Yes.”
Senator Roberts: ”Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Mr. Secretary, since we both agree it is vital, and the Plum Island facility is in a sense starting to fall apart, were you surprised at all to see the budget eliminate the construction funding and instead pump more money into research that the state of Kansas has already agreed to support as part of our cost share proposal?”
Secretary Vilsack: “Senator, we are looking at opportunities, as you and I have discussed, to see if there are ways in which some of the activities or some of the work that is being done in Plum Island, that some of that work may transition if you will, to the Kansas location, which I am committed to trying to make happen this year. So, obviously we’re going to continue to work with you, and work with the committee, and work with the Congress, to make sure folks understand the significance of this facility, to make sure that they understand the concerns we have with the Plum Island facility and some of the needed repairs that would be required, and the cost of those repairs, over a period of 10, 15, 20 years, and whether or not we’d be better off as a country having a modern facility. This is critical for us. It’s critical for us in terms of being able to identify problems and being able to accurately analyze the extent of the problem. As we become engaged more in global trade and as agriculture becomes a great story for American exports, we obviously want to be able to maintain our good reputation around the world.”
“So, this facility is important. We’ll continue to work with Homeland Security as we have. We’ll continue to work with your office, as we have to make sure that at some point in time this becomes a reality. There is still a lot of work that has to be done in terms of design. We have to make sure that it is adequate to contain some very dangerous materials that they’ll have to deal with. But my hope that is we can find a way to get this built at some point.”
Roberts also corrected myths and distortions about the safety of the project by discussing the Department of Homeland Security’s efforts to design the safest laboratory of its kind and to offer comprehensive mitigation proposals. He also reaffirmed the significant support from the state of Kansas for construction of NBAF in Manhattan.