House Panel Gives Controversial Biodefense Lab a Boost

A U.S. House of Representatives committee today takes up a 2013 spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that would partly reverse deep cuts in the agency's science and technology programs. It also provides $75 million for a controversial agricultural biodefense laboratory in Kansas that the Obama Administration had zeroed out of its fiscal year 2013 budget request.

Overall, the draft spending bill before the House Appropriations Committee would provide $39.1 billion for DHS, 1% below the White House's request and about $484 million, or 1.2%, below its 2012 budget. The agency's core research, development, and innovation (RD&I) programs would get a hefty 40% increase, to $406 million, over current spending levels, but that number is $73 million below the White House's request.

The restored $140 million is in part to make up for major RD&I cuts Congress imposed last year. The funding will allow DHS "to fully fund all projects that were at a reduced level in fiscal year 2012, restart half of its requested projects currently on 'hold,' and consider new R&D projects that offer the potential of novel and more cost effective solutions to DHS challenges," notes a committee report accompanying the bill.

The bill also dedicates $75 million of a $202 million laboratory facilities funding line to "initiate meaningful segments" of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) in Manhattan, Kansas. Earlier this year, the White House proposed no funding for NBAF, which has been dogged by controversy over its safety, cost, and usefulness. Kansas lawmakers have vowed to restore funding for the project, which is currently being reviewed by an expert panel organized by the National Research Council of the National Academies.

At the outset of today's committee meeting, Democrats on the Republican-controlled panel attacked the majority for including NBAF funding. "I have to question the including of $75 million in limited resources … for a project that remains under review by the National Academy of Sciences," said Representative David Price (D-NC), arguing that it reduced the amount of funding available for other research efforts.

Yesterday, a U.S. Senate Appropriations subcommittee took the first step in approving its version of a DHS spending bill. Few details are available, but that bill also would restore funds to the agency's research programs. Overall, the Senate's $45.2 billion measure would provide $831 million for DHS's science and technology accounts, $163 million above fiscal year 2012, and equal to fiscal year 2011 levels.