As a reminder, NBAF came about as a result of 9/11 and the consensus agreement that the United States had to take Homeland Security much more seriously. This was especially true in areas where much more advanced research would be necessary. For example, the unbelievably dangerous zoonotic diseases—the viruses that can move from animals to humans—need much more attention. In 2001, the research being done in this area was happening at Plum Island off the east coast, under the control of the Department of Agriculture, with a focus only on animal disease research. At the time, that structural organization made sense. But, after 9/11, decision makers focused on the new national security threats (particularly bioterrorism and attacks on our food systems) wisely decided to build the new facility under the leadership and management of the newly-formed Department of Homeland Security. In substance and common sense, the location decision has not changed since.
Just think for a moment about the problems that will likely evolve. The current facility construction is handled through private contracts but closely watched by Homeland Security staff. Many of whom, one would assume, will continue to work at the facility to help wisely and safely oversee the many incredibly dangerous research projects that will follow. Now, one can say that is not a real problem. Just move the staff. Yes, but how many will follow and how well will Agriculture manage and fund them? Keep in mind, Ag has crop insurance and food assistance programs that always generate intense interest and questions when it comes to budgeting. Will NABF face operational cuts in order to satisfy those other legitimate needs? And remember, it looks pretty clear that the Administration is moving to get their money for the wall by shifting the dollars from existing current needs within Homeland Security to fund wall construction.
I have yet to talk to anyone who thinks this makes sense. There is very little public awareness or much communication coming from any Kansas elected official. At the very least, we should—in a united fashion—push back, ask the tough questions, and insist upon full disclosure of all the facts. I’ve tried to think of a comparison that could help put this into perspective. For me, this would be akin to moving the K-State women's basketball coaching staff to the football program to squeeze money for something totally unrelated and ill-fated—like building a wall along the Colorado border as a way to keep the drugs from coming our way.
This decision merits serious discussion at all levels—local, state, and federal. The strategy that helped Kansas successfully attract the NBAF facility was based on a strong, united Kansas voice on the matter. Elected officials from both parties and all levels of government agreed that this facility was in the best interest of the state and the region, and their support was backed by strategic investments in things like the Kansas Bioscience Authority (which was dealt its final blow by the Brownback Administration in 2016) to help spur the growth of a new industry around this important area for research and development. All together, this helped prove that Kansas was serious about the prospects of the federal facility and also that we were ready to make the necessary decisions to ensure its future safety and success. That Kansas voice must, once again, be raised on the issue—this time, in support of a sane way forward for NBAF.