WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, and Congressman John K. Delaney (all D-Md.) are praising the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) Conference Report approved by the House of Representatives Tuesday that would provide a thorough study of America’s National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center (NBACC) on Fort Detrick. Using language similar to Senator Cardin’s amendment passed in the Senate version of NDAA, the mandated study would forestall bewildering moves by the Trump Administration to shutter a unique lab that supports federal law enforcement investigations and identifies biological vulnerabilities and hazards to our nation. The Maryland lawmakers wrote to President Trump earlier this year urging him to reverse course on his budget plan to close the NBACC lab. “The risk of biological and chemical agents being used is increasing. This is not the time to be weakening our defenses against such weapons,” they wrote.
“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,” said Senator Cardin. “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.”
“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,” said Senator Van Hollen. “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.”
“NBACC is an essential piece of our homeland security and national defense portfolio,” said Congressman Delaney. “I don’t understand why the Trump Administration wants to close the facility and it would be a huge mistake if they do. Senator Cardin, Senator Van Hollen and I have fought this proposed closure every step of the way and we’re going to continue to do so. 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. 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 Senator Cardin and Senator Van Hollen for their partnership on this issue.”
The NDAA conference report provision (Section. 1053) requires a joint report from the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and Defense (DOD) by March 1, 2018, on the functions and end users of the NBACC. The report must detail the cost and mission impact for users if NBACC is closed, including an analysis on NBACC functions that cannot be replicated elsewhere in the government, and must include a transition plan for essential functions. The language requires DHS and DOD to consult with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Attorney General, Director of National Intelligence, and other DHS components, when drafting the report, which may include a classified annex. This provision prevents the use of any funds authorized under the NDAA to close or transfer NBACC until the report is submitted to Congress, and the heads of the Federal agencies that use the NBACC certify that its closure would not have a negative effect.