News
Press Release
July 13, 2017

Cardin and Van Hollen, Ruppersberger and Delaney Call on President Trump Not to Sacrifice America's Chemical and Biological Defenses​

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

July 13, 2017

 

CONTACT:

Sue Walitsky (Cardin) 202-224-4524

Ian Jannetta (Van Hollen) 202-228-0672

Jaime Lennon (Ruppersberger) 410-746-7954

Will McDonald (Delaney) 202-225-2721

 

Cardin and Van Hollen, Ruppersberger and Delaney Call on President Trump Not to Sacrifice America’s Chemical and Biological Defenses

 

“The risk of biological and chemical agents being used is increasing. This is not the time to be weakening our defenses against such weapons.”

 

Maryland lawmakers will be pursuing all options to reverse this decision by the administration

 

WASHINGTON – U.S Senator Ben Cardin and Senator Chris Van Hollen, with Congressmen C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and John K. Delaney, have written to President Trump urging him to prioritize protecting our nation from the real threats of chemical and biological weapons rather than diverting resources for a fruitless wall at our southern border. The lawmakers expressed their alarm not only that the administration was seeking to shut down the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center (NBACC) on Fort Detrick and the Chemical Security Analysis Center (CSAC) on Aberdeen Proving Ground, but also that budget officials were giving shutdown instructions based on the president’s Fiscal Year 18 budget, which does not have the force of law and would require congressional appropriations to be enacted. Congress fully funded both the NBACC and CSAC in the Fiscal Year 2017 appropriations that were signed into law by President Trump. The Maryland lawmakers will be pursuing all options to reverse this decision by the administration.

 

“These actions are alarming and will put the American people at greater risk of a chemical or biological terrorist attack,” the lawmakers wrote. “The NBACC’s two centers – the National Bioforensic Analysis Center (NBFAC) and the National Biological Threat Characterization Center (NBTCC) – conduct technical analyses in support of federal law enforcement investigations and identify biological vulnerabilities and hazards to our nation. …CSAC plays a proactive role in identifying vulnerabilities in our nation’s infrastructure, effectively mitigating damages from accidental chemical discharge to terrorist attacks.”

 

“We urge you to suspend any actions that would lead to the closure of these two facilities, both of which play vital roles in America’s national security and the safety of the American people which cannot be replicated elsewhere. Closing these labs will only serve to put our country at risk by creating chemical and biological vulnerabilities that terrorists and adversaries are anxious to exploit. The risk of biological and chemical agents being used is increasing. This is not the time to be weakening our defenses against such weapons.”

 

A Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense chaired by Senator Joseph Lieberman and Governor Tom Ridge also has expressed concerns with the planned lab closure: “NBACC is the only facility in the United States with the bioforensics capability needed to assist the [Federal Bureau of Investigation] in its investigations. … The Panel is troubled that the President's own budget states that the lab's work supports intelligence assessments, preparedness planning, emerging threat characterization, and bioforensic analyses, and that its closure may impact DHS' ability to characterize high-consequence pathogens before and during a biological event.”

 

The full letter is below and at this link. Copies were sent to Mick Mulvaney, Director, Office of Management and Budget; Secretary John Kelly, Department of Homeland Security; Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Department of Justice; and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats.

 

 

 

 

The President

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.

Washington, D.C. 20500

 

Dear Mr. President:

 

You have said repeatedly that your number one priority is to protect the American people from harm. It is for that reason we write today with profound concern regarding plans in your Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18) budget request to reduce the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) by 28% in order to fund a border wall. Most specifically, immediately after the release of your budget, the S&T Directorate began planning the closure of the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center (NBACC) on Fort Detrick and the Chemical Security Analysis Center (CSAC) on Aberdeen Proving Ground. These actions are alarming and will put the American people at greater risk of a chemical or biological terrorist attack. This fateful decision is compounded by the fact that your administration’s work toward closing these facilities is beginning well before Congress has enacted an appropriations bill for FY 2018, which runs afoul of the basic principles of checks and balances established in the Constitution. Congress fully funded both the NBACC and CSAC in the Fiscal Year 2017 appropriations measure you signed into law last month.

 

The NBACC was directed in 2004 to provide our national security apparatus and federal law enforcement agencies with state-of-the art, cutting-edge laboratory capabilities to characterize newly identified biological threats and analyze their planned or actual capacity for delivery and to do forensic analysis in support of law enforcement investigations and prosecution. The work of this lab was considered so vital to U.S. national security that the federal government invested more than one half-billion dollars on the construction and staffing of the lab (which opened in 2011). The NBACC’s two centers – the National Bioforensic Analysis Center (NBFAC) and the National Biological Threat Characterization Center (NBTCC) – conduct technical analyses in support of federal law enforcement investigations and identify biological vulnerabilities and hazards to our nation. The NBACC labs have the unique ability to conduct classified work for the intelligence community and for the Department of Defense at biosafety level (BSL) 4, in order to counter emerging threats and study pathogens where no vaccine or treatment exists.

 

The NBACC mission continues to be crucial to U.S. national security. The closure of this lab will be disastrous. This is a one-of-a-kind facility, with one-of-a kind capabilities that cannot be replicated, and it provides critical support to multiple agencies throughout the government. Fort Detrick is a center of gravity in the defense of our nation against biological threats and its selection as the home of the NBACC mission was purposeful for the expertise and knowledge found there.  The scientists and technicians there now have spent years developing highly specialized expertise and are now our nation’s leading experts in the field.  This talent is irreplaceable. 

 

The Department of Homeland Security established the CSAC in 2006 to address chemical threats and hazards to the homeland. This lab is the only government asset capable of providing around-the-clock reachback in the event of a chemical threat. The Center delivers immediate, accurate, and actionable instructions to first responders at the federal, state, and local level.

 

CSAC plays a proactive role in identifying vulnerabilities in our nation’s infrastructure, effectively mitigating damages from accidental chemical discharge to terrorist attacks. The loss of this laboratory will significantly compromise our homeland security.

 

We urge you to suspend any actions that would lead to the closure of these two facilities, both of which play vital roles in America’s national security and the safety of the American people which cannot be replicated elsewhere. Closing these labs will only serve to put our country at risk by creating chemical and biological vulnerabilities that terrorists and adversaries are anxious to exploit. The risk of biological and chemical agents being used is increasing. This is not the time to be weakening our defenses against such weapons.

 

You should direct the Department of Homeland Security and Office of Management and Budget to reverse immediately any actions they have taken to shutter these facilities, while allowing Congress to carry out its constitutional responsibilities of oversight and appropriations. 

 

We will vigorously oppose any attempt to close the doors of these facilities, which are actively engaged in the daily protection of the people of this country. It is clear to Congress and should be clear to you that the threats our nation faces from chemical and biological terrorist attacks far exceed any perceived benefit of a wall on our southern border.  

 

 

Sincerely,

 

 

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