The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) - AHomeland Security Department plan to move foot-and-mouth disease research from an island off New York to Kansas is a "foolish tempting of fate," the head of a House oversight panel said Thursday.
Michigan Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak issued his criticism as the Homeland Security Department defended its plan to build a more than $500 million animal disease lab in Manhattan, Kan.
Stupak and fellow Michigan Democratic Rep. John Dingell, former Energy and Commerce Committee chairman, raised concerns last year about the planned research move. They repeated their concerns Thursday as the GAO officially issued a report critical of the Homeland Security Department's plan. A draft of the report was leaked to media earlier this week.
"Moving contagious animal research to the heart of America's livestock industry remains a foolish tempting of fate," said Stupak, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee's oversight and investigations committee.
Foot-and-mouth disease, which affects cattle and swine, was eradicated from the U.S. in 1929. Research on the disease has been kept off the mainland since then.
The GAO's findings could slow construction of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, scheduled for groundbreaking next year.
The House and Senate passed homeland security spending bills that require more study on the risks of moving the research.
The House bill withholds building money until an independent study is done. A final bill must be negotiated in a conference committee.
"The new GAO report concludes that the evidence DHS used in its environmental impact statement had severe limitations. After two hearings and three years, we still don't know if it is safe to conduct foot and mouth disease research on the mainland," Dingell said.
GAO said the homeland security department used an improper computer model to look at the dispersion risk if an accidentally released occurred. It also said DHS did not include market response to an outbreak in its economic analysis, among other things.
DHS countered that GAO failed to show whether using other methods to study the risks of accidental release would have yielded different results.
"There are significant benefits to constructing the NBAF on the mainland, including rapid diagnosis and response to possible foreign animal disease outbreaks," Bradley Buswell, DHS's acting undersecretary for science and technology.
The department also criticized GAO for focusing on whether the research can be done as safely on the mainland as on Plum Island, instead of whether it can be done safely on the mainland.
Also, DHS said modern biocontainment technology allows the research to be done on the mainland.
The Homeland Security Department was scheduled to publicly defend its study in a Thursday hearing but the hearing was postponed to allow members to work on health care reform legislation.
On the Net: GAO report: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d09747.pdf
Department of Homeland Security: http://www.dhs.gov
Energy and Commerce Committee: http://energycommerce.house.gov/