WASHINGTON – A smaller National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) could still be effective and save money if some of the lab’s functions were outsourced to existing laboratories, according to a report from the independent National Research Council (NRC).

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) commissioned the study after Congress and the Obama administration appeared reluctant to allocate more funds to the project. The NRC convened an ad-hoc committee to assess the requirements for an ideal research facility that could address threats to US livestock from foreign animal diseases (FADs). The committee released its findings July 13. The report examines three options: Keep the current proposal for the NBAF, scale back the size of the proposed laboratory or keep the Plum Island Animal Disease Center while leveraging the capabilities and capacity of other laboratories with a large animal bio safety level-4 containment space.

Supporters of the current plan argue that a scaled-down version of the lab would be a waste of taxpayers’ money because it would require more money to create a new design.

Benefits of keeping to the current plan include giving the US the internal infrastructure to study foreign animal disease (FAD) threats, and avoiding moving materials from other facilities, according to the report. Drawbacks include costs associated with the project and duplication of capabilities found at other laboratories.

“Substantial costs are associated with the proposed expansions in DHS, USDA-ARS, and USDA-APHIS programs,” the report stated. “Because it houses the laboratory components and associated research, development and training activities in a central facility, the proposed NBAF does not fully leverage other existing and complementary investments in high bio-containment laboratory, diagnostic, training and other vaccine development capacity in the United States and has the potential for duplication of resources — duplication that could be addressed by exploring partnerships with other facilities.”

The report went on to say that several components of the NBAF could be reduced in size and scope or eliminated if partnerships were in place. Examples of areas that could be reduced or eliminated include:

• The bio-development module for pilot vaccine production;
• Rooms designated for training and training necropsy room; and
• Reductions in the sizes of the animal rooms, small animal rooms and associated laboratory space.

“Option 2 would have lower construction costs, although the actual cost implications are not clear given the limited and insufficient information provided by DHS,” the report said. The committee’s report added that the second option would draw on “scientific and research expertise available in other federal laboratories and outside government, providing intellectual benefits and possible cost savings through increased efficiencies by avoiding duplication, and fostering greater collaboration between researchers as part of an integrated US system for countering FADs…”

The DHS proposed creating a facility in 2006 as a replacement for the Plum Island lab for research and diagnostic activities for foreign animal diseases and zoonotic diseases at high bio-containment levels to accommodate livestock. The laboratory is slated for construction in Manhattan, Kan.