Archive for Thursday, April 19, 2007

Don’t discount politics in biolab decision, lawmaker says

April 19, 2007

After the glossy reports, high-powered presentations and site visits, the decision on where to build a much-sought-after $450 million national security laboratory may come down to old-fashioned politics.

"My guess is that it's mostly related to the merits. But I would never discount politics in any decision that is made in Washington, D.C.," U.S. Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Hays, said.

Kansas has launched a full-court press to lure the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's proposed facility, which officials say will become the nation's leading research lab on potential threats to human, animal and plant life.

Homeland Security is considering 17 sites in 11 states. The proposed Kansas sites are Leavenworth and Manhattan.

In their bid for the lab, state officials have emphasized Kansas' deep agricultural research base, central location, growing bioscience industry, and they have even offered the use of Kansas State University's new bioscience lab as a transitional facility.

"Kansas has a strong case to make for bringing the planned federal lab to our state," Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said.

Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, echoed those sentiments, adding, "When you look at the merits of our proposal versus other states, if we don't get it, it's not because of the merits, it's because someone else had more political clout."

Maybe not surprisingly, officials from other states use practically the same points to boost their states' effort.

This from Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue: "Our investments and expertise in life sciences and agriculture make Georgia the ideal location for this facility."

From Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher on a proposal that includes Kentucky and Tennessee universities and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory: "The Kentucky-Tennessee proposal has both scientific depth and research ingenuity that makes it truly cutting edge."

Eyes on Texas, Georgia

Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson, co-chairman of a task force working on Kansas' bid for the lab, said he believed Texas and Georgia were Kansas' major competition.

"Both have some demonstrated animal research capability, and both have strong political ties," Parkinson said.

President Bush is from Texas, and Georgia has legislators in key congressional positions.

The question of how much influence political connections will have has been on the minds of some task force members.

Several noted that Homeland Security is scheduled to make a decision on the winning site in late 2008 during a presidential campaign. And given there will be a change in administrations, there is some question about whether the Homeland Security officials currently working on the site selection process will be the same ones making the final decision.

Comparisons to BRAC

But if a final push was measured on political muscle, Moran is confident Kansas would be in good shape.

He noted that Kansas Republican and Democratic leaders were unified on the issue.

"I look at BRAC as the role model," Moran said, referring to the bipartisan effort to protect Kansas military installations in the 2005 federal Base Realignment and Closure process.

Kansas fared well, keeping all its major bases and returning the Army's 1st Infantry Division to Fort Riley, providing thousands of new jobs.

"We were very successful. It had to do with the congressional delegation, the state of Kansas, the governor's task force and communities making certain they did all the right things," Moran said.

He said that was occurring now with the effort to get the lab. "My guess is surely there is a component that has to do with politics. We're all working to make certain that the politics are played correctly in Washington, D.C.," he said.

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