In a move that would head-off the potential closure of the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center (NBACC) at Fort Detrick, the House of Representatives approved a mandatory study of the facility and the nation’s biodefense vulnerabilities on Tuesday.
The House approved the NBACC study as part of the larger National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) Conference Report. The provision echoes an amendment introduced by members of Maryland’s delegation.
The members noted that risks posed by biological and chemical agents are on the rise, and “this is not the time to be weakening our defenses against such weapons,” in a letter to the president earlier this year.
“The need to protect the American people from biological threats is very real and should not be brought to a screeching halt for arbitrary reasons,” U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) said. “Moves to close the NBACC are ill-advised and this congressionally mandated study should provide the thoughtful analysis needed to upend such plans that would run counter to our national security.”
Under the provision, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Defense (DoD) would be required to file a joint report that outlines how NBACC’s closure would have on end users by March. Factors including cost, mission impact, and transitional plans for essential functions would be required.
“Protecting our country from biological attacks is crucial to our national security and without the work of the NBACC our country would be more vulnerable to these threats,” U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) said. “I’m glad to see this provision to protect the NBACC included in the final NDAA legislation, and I will continue to fight this administration’s perplexing efforts to strip our homeland defense of such an important tool.”
Additionally, the heads of the DHS and DoD would be required to consult with the FBI, attorney general, director of national intelligence and other DHS components about the potential closure of NBACC under the provision. And NDAA funds could not be used to close NBACC until the report is submitted to Congress.
U.S. Rep. John Delaney (D-MD) said NBACC plays a critical role in national defense, and it would be a mistake for the Trump administration to close the facility.
“…Throughout the appropriations and defense authorization process it has been clear that there is bipartisan support for NBACC, which is why we’ve been able to pass multiple amendments in support of the facility,” Delaney said. “This agreement puts the brakes on closing NBACC, requiring that we are not going to close the lab until we get full confirmation that our biological defense capabilities won’t be weakened. It’s good news that this provision is in the conference version of NDAA, but we have more work to do. I thank Sen. Cardin and Sen. Van Hollen for their partnership on this issue.”