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NBAF Update: Making Lemonade Out of the Year 2020

by Danni Hammontree | Jan 14, 2021
NBAF Update: Making Lemonade Out of the Year 2020
By Stephanie Jacques, NBAF Public Affairs Specialist

Building the nation’s first large animal research and diagnostic facility with maximum biocontainment capability during a pandemic comes with some challenges. In keeping with the Midwestern spirit, the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, or NBAF, being built in Manhattan, Kansas, took those challenges in stride and continues working to make the best of them.

NBAF’s construction progress had remained on schedule until about April 2020, when COVID-related disruptions affected labor and material availability. To minimize delays to the overall program, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Science & Technology Directorate, or DHS S&T, collaborated to realign NBAF’s schedule. The two departments announced the new schedule in December 2020.

NBAF’s new milestones:

  • Substantial completion of construction is projected for October 2021. This is the point where USDA will have full access to the facility and will be responsible for its operations.
  • Completion of commissioning is projected for December 2021.
  • Full operating capability is projected for September 2023, which is when registration for all select agents is granted by the Federal Select Agent Program and approval for transfer and work with Foot and Mouth Disease is granted from the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.
  • Transfer of the mission from Plum Island Animal Disease Center, or PIADC, to NBAF is projected for December 2023.

As background, substantial completion of NBAF construction was originally scheduled for December 2020, completion of commissioning in May 2021, and transition of the mission from the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, or PIADC, in August 2023. Currently, the mission transfer is only projected to be delayed about four months — a big accomplishment that is a result of many people working together in the best interest of NBAF.

As part of the schedule realignment, USDA and DHS S&T worked together to make key decisions regarding the timing of certain tasks. For example, the substantial completion of construction milestone now includes efforts that would have been executed after USDA took ownership. These efforts address necessary technology upgrades identified since the design was completed in 2012 as well as installation of USDA-funded equipment. By combining these efforts into the substantial completion of construction milestone, further delays to the overall NBAF program will be minimized.

USDA and DHS S&T continue to assess, and where possible, mitigate impacts to downstream milestones for operational standup and transition of the mission from PIADC. As the two departments continue working together, one proposal to mitigate these delays is for USDA to take phased responsibility for some operational functions of the facility starting in April 2021.

Another challenge over the past year has been adjusting to maximum telework and continuing to hire new NBAF team members under these interesting conditions. As of early January, USDA has hired or made tentative selections for about 90% of the 275 operations team members for NBAF. Eighty-eight of those employees onboarded — many even interviewed — through teleconferencing technology. NBAF expects to have 400 operations and scientific team members when the facility is fully operational. These positions are advertised on USAJobs.gov and are regularly shared through NBAF’s Twitter and LinkedIn accounts.

While challenges may remain, DHS S&T continues to project that the construction and commissioning of NBAF under the new revised schedule can be covered within the current $1.25 billion estimated cost.

NBAF wide shot (Jan 2021) NBAF Water Feature_2020(use with complete facility image)




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