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Homeland security bill includes millions for Fort Detrick lab that faced closure

By HANNAH DELLINGER | The Frederick News-Post (Tribune News Service) | Published: June 22, 2018

Homeland security funding that will soon be up for a vote in Congress includes $73.6 million for a Fort Detrick laboratory that researches biological threats and processes evidence for the FBI, but was in danger of being closed.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D) announced Thursday he secured millions in federal funding for the National Biodefense Analysis Countermeasures Center at Fort Detrick, among other state programs, in the proposed Fiscal 2019 Homeland Security Appropriations Act. The proposed bill passed committee Thursday, according to Van Hollen's staff. No date has been set for the measure to come to the floor for a full vote.

“From research labs that are vital to keeping our nation safe, to ensuring the Coast Guard’s fleet is well-maintained and ready to act, this bill includes key priorities that support jobs in Maryland and our national security,” Van Hollen said in a prepared statement. “Military bases and federal facilities across our state are working every day to keep America secure, and I will keep fighting to support their work and ensure they have the resources they need to succeed.”

NBACC, a federally contracted laboratory operated by the Battelle National Biodefense Institute, handles federal select agents such as ricin, anthrax and the Ebola virus. The Fort Detrick laboratory is the only one in the U.S. that processes evidence for FBI investigations involving biological threats.

The proposed Homeland Security Act would allocate $24.1 million to NBACC for bio-threat characterization and bio-forensic research and development, $28.7 million for operations and a contribution of $20.8 million from the FBI, according to Van Hollen's office.

The Trump administration proposed closing NBACC and other federal laboratories in May 2017. At that time, The Frederick News-Post reported the lab lost 20 staff members after receiving a notification that it would be closed.

But the federal omnibus spending bill President Donald Trump signed in March allocated $4.3 million in funding for another year of operation for NBACC.

Van Hollen said the proposed Homeland Security Act would also provide $9.4 million in funding for the Chemical Security Analysis Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground. The senator said he also secured $22.5 million in funding for the Coast Guard Yard Fast Response Cutter Travel Lift in Baltimore, which will allow lifting and dry-docking large crafts for maintenance and will save "tens of millions of dollars in operating costs." The funding will result in the employment of about 120 federal and contract workers over the next two decades, according to Van Hollen.

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