Infectious Diseases Study Site Questioned

By Carol D. Leonnig, Washington Post

The Department of Homeland Security relied on a rushed, flawed study to justify its decision to locate a $700 million research facility for highly infectious pathogens in a tornado-prone section of Kansas, according to a government report.

The department’s analysis was not “scientifically defensible” in concluding that it could safely handle dangerous animal diseases in Kansas — or any other location on the U.S. mainland, according to a Government Accountability Office draft report obtained by The Washington Post. The GAO said DHS greatly underestimated the chance of accidental release and major contamination from such research, which has been conducted only on a remote island off the United States.

DHS staff members tried quietly last week to fend off a public airing of the facility’s risks, agency correspondence shows. Department officials met privately with staff members of a congressional oversight subcommittee to try to convince them that the GAO report was unfair, and to urge them to forgo or postpone a hearing. But the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s oversight and investigations subcommittee, chaired by  Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), decided otherwise. It plans to hold a hearing Thursday on the risk analysis, according to two sources briefed on the plans.

The criticism of DHS’s site selection comes as the proposed research lab, the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF), was expected to win construction funding in the congressional appropriations process.

“Drawing conclusions about relocating research with highly infectious exotic animal pathogens from questionable methodology could result in regrettable consequences,” the GAO warned in its draft report. DHS’s review was too “limited” and “inadequate” to decide that any mainland labs were safe, the report found. GAO officials declined to comment on the findings.

Read the full post here.

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