By BRIAN GRIMMETT
The terms for handing off the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan, Kansas, have been settled — even as the billion-dollar-plus research site remains under construction.
In the agreement signed this week, the Department of Homeland Security remains responsible for completing construction of the state-of-the-art research facility. But it will hand over the job of running the place to the U.S. Department of Agriculture when construction wraps up. That’s expected at the end of 2020.
DHS has been responsible for the project since its inception, but the research arms of the USDA have always been heavily involved in planning. The USDA was always going to be overseeing research at the facility — if not its actual operation — even before the idea of taking over operations completely was requested in President Donald Trump’s 2019 budget proposal.
Now the USDA won’t be a tenant, it’ll be the landlord.
“The roles of the research people does not change,” DHS NBAF Coordinator Tim Barr said. “The security setting does not change. The relationships that exist with the FBI and other entities, that does not change at all.”
NBAF is intended to be a world-class animal disease research facility and will ultimately be the only location in the U.S. where scientists will study live foot-and-mouth disease in livestock.
Once finished, the building will house more than 500,000 square feet of laboratory space, including the nation’s first biosafety Level 4 large animal research laboratory.
The BSL-4 laboratory will allow researchers to study deadly zoonotic diseases — those that are highly contagious and can spread between humans and animals — that don’t have any known vaccinations or treatments.
NBAF will be replacing the aging Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York.
The USDA recently opened up an office in Manhattan to begin recruiting potential employees.
“A facility like this allows us to bring those people in, do the work that we need to do and be more prepared to stand-up operationally when we move into the NBAF facility,” said Ken Burton, USDA’s NBAF coordinator.
He said the agency would like to have 80% of the workforce needed for NBAF hired by the end of 2020.
The USDA expects to need as many as 400 employees once the facility is completely up and running at the end of 2022.
Brian Grimmett reports on the environment, energy and natural resources for KMUW in Wichita and the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio, KCUR and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. Follow him on Twitter @briangrimmett or email grimmett (at) kmuw (dot) org.
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(Kansas News Service)