Editorial: Is D.C. coming to its senses?

02/16/2012 6:00 AM |


“This,” Congressman Tim Bishop said earlier this week, “is one of the reasons why people hate government.”

The “this” he’s talking about is the continuing attempt by the governor of Kansas and that state’s congressional delegation to close the Plum Island Animal Disease Research Center and instead construct an entirely new lab in Manhattan, Kan., called the National Bio and Agro Defense Facility — at a price approaching a billion dollars.

At first blush that may not seem like the worst idea ever floated in Washington. But on closer inspection, it’s certainly near the top of the list. Fortunately, and surprisingly, there was good news on that front this week. The budget package President Obama delivered to Congress Monday calls for spending of a staggering $3.8 trillion, but there’s not a penny in there for the Kansas lab.

Congress has yet to set aside any funding for construction, although it has provided tens of millions for design and planning.

From the federal perspective, that’s a drop in the bucket. This being a presidential election year, bigger battles loom. Even so, Mr. Bishop said he expects the Kansas contingent to push to restore at least some project funding. In the unlikely event they succeed in both the GOP-controlled House and the Democrat-dominated Senate, the Obama administration, for the first time, opposes it.

Beyond that, the administration is calling for a “comprehensive assessment of the cost, safety concerns and alternatives.”

Some of that work has already been done. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Plum Island was placed under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security. A DHS assessment of the Kansas location, in the heart of livestock country, estimated the chance of an accidental release of the foot-and-mouth virus at close to 70 percent sometime during the facility’s projected 50-year lifetime. The economic impact would be catastrophic, the department said, perhaps reaching $50 billion. A research group affiliated with the National Academy of Sciences said the DHS underestimated that risk.

Mr. Bishop notes that budget battles are an annual affair, so the best we can hope for are year-to-year victories. But since success in Washington is all about gaining and maintaining momentum, the Kansas project seems destined to fail. With such an uncommon display of common sense, perhaps there will be a little less reason to hate government.