Officials from the USDA and the Department of Homeland Security have signed a Memorandum of Agreement that formally outlines how the departments will transfer ownership and operational responsibility for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility from DHS’ Science and Technology Directorate to USDA.
The agreement was signed by USDA Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Greg Ibach, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics Scott Hutchins and DHS Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Under Secretary for Science and Technology William Bryan.
When completed, NBAF will be a biosafety level-4 laboratory in Manhattan, Kan., for the study of diseases that threaten both U.S. agriculture and public health.
Under the terms of the memorandum, DHS retains responsibility for completing construction and commissioning of the $1.25 billion facility, while USDA will assume responsibility for all operational planning and eventual operation of the facility. DHS’ efforts are on schedule and on budget to complete construction in December 2020 and to complete commissioning in May 2021, when ownership of NBAF will be formally transferred to USDA.
“It’s a real honor for USDA to have the operational stewardship of NBAF. We look forward to working with Members of Congress, our private sector partners, and our academic partners in this area as we take over operations. USDA will make this a facility that America can be proud of,” says U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.
“NBAF will be the first facility in the United States with maximum biocontainment, BSL-4 labs, where we can develop vaccines and diagnostics for high-consequence animal diseases – including those that can also affect human health,” Ibach says. “These expanded capabilities will enable us to be more dynamic and flexible in responding to disease threats—wherever they come from, whatever they look like.”
“All security starts with food security,” Hutchins says. “Few countries have as successful a history of protecting agriculture and their food supply from both intentional and unintentional threats as does the United States - with NBAF, we are doubling-down on this mission. This will be a unique, state-of-the-art national security asset where we will practice state-of-the-science research to avert and address critical bio-risks to U.S. agriculture.”
“The DHS/USDA partnership on NBAF extends back to the initial planning in 2006. That partnership has remained throughout the DHS-led acquisition process and will endure after USDA initiates operation of the facility,” says DHS’ Bryan. “The capabilities provided by NBAF are critical in the ongoing efforts to protect the nation’s food supply, and agriculture economy. As noted by the National Academies of Science in a 2012 review of the NBAF Program, the NBAF design provides the ‘ideal functionality’ to address the stated mission needs.”
The state-of-the-art NBAF facility will replace the aging Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York. The Manhattan site strategically places it near the largest concentration of animal health companies in the world, providing access to important veterinary, agricultural and biosecurity research and expertise.
Also released at today’s event was a document outlining USDA's strategic vision for NBAF. It summarizes how NBAF will serve as a national biosecurity asset to protect human and animal health, food safety and the ag economy.