Archive for Monday, August 11, 2008

Decision to skip Leavenworth as NBAF finalist was unfair, angry lawmaker says

August 11, 2008

State Rep. Marti Crow, D-Leavenworth

State Rep. Marti Crow, D-Leavenworth

A state legislator on Monday expressed anger after a report indicated that Leavenworth had a high score as a possible location for a federal biosafety lab but was leapfrogged as a finalist by politically connected Mississippi.

"You get a good grade and get eliminated? That just isn't fair," said Rep. Marti Crow, D-Leavenworth.

The Associated Press reported that the Department of Homeland Security ignored evaluations of government advisers to select Flora, Miss., as a finalist for the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility, known as NBAF.

The experts had ranked Flora, Miss., 14th out of 17 applicants with a score of 81. Meanwhile, Leavenworth had a score of 92, among the highest of those applying, but didn't make the final cut.

In addition to Flora, Miss., the finalists include Manhattan, Kan., Athens, Ga., San Antonio, Granville County, N.C., and Plum Island, N.Y., which is where the biosafety lab currently is located.

Mississippi's lawmakers include the chairman of Homeland Security's oversight committee in the House, and the senior Republican on the Senate committee that will fund construction of NBAF.

"I am extremely disappointed in Homeland Security, and very upset that homeland security issues would be subject to political pressure," Crow said.

Homeland Security's Undersecretary Jay Cohen chose Mississippi to be in the final group. A department spokeswoman, Amy Kudwa, told the AP that the agency's internal committee reviews "did not appropriately consider the unique contributions certain consortia committed to make in their proposals." Mississippi, for example, promised to work closely with Battelle Memorial Institute, a Homeland Security contractor that already manages some national labs elsewhere for the Homeland Security and Energy departments.

While Crow was dismayed about the omission of Leavenworth, other Kansas officials held their fire.

"Kansas' strategy is unchanged," said Tom Thornton, president of the Kansas Bioscience Authority. "As we have from the beginning, we are encouraging the Department of Homeland Security to keep the selection process focused on the merits," he said.

But U.S. Rep. Nancy Boyda, D-Topeka, whose district includes both Leavenworth and Manhattan, said the report raised concerns. "Kansans should be able to trust that, moving forward, the selection process will be fully transparent and accountable," Boyda said.

Homeland Security is scheduled to pick a site by the end of the year.

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