The U.S. House of Representatives approved a national defense bill on Friday that includes a massive military spending increase — and a little nugget for Frederick.
While controversial amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act that would have addressed transgender troops and climate policy failed, an amendment from Rep. John Delaney, D-6th, was added to the bill Friday to maintain funding for a Fort Detrick laboratory.
The bill was then passed by the chamber, 344-81.
Delaney’s amendment was added to the National Defense Authorization Act during floor debate on Friday morning. It indirectly protects funding for the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center (NBACC), which had been slated to close by President Donald Trump’s administration.
The amendment prohibits any funds being used to close or transfer any biosafety level 4 laboratory, including NBACC, until the heads of the federal agencies that use the laboratory jointly certify to Congress that the closing or transfer would not have a negative effect on the nation’s biological defense capabilities.
The FBI is the primary user of the National Bioforensic Analysis Center, which is half of the NBACC facility at Fort Detrick. The bureau said in the spring that about 14,000 pieces of evidence in bioterror investigations have been processed by the lab since 2004.
Delaney said that his amendment puts the brakes on closing NBACC.
About 180 people work at the lab, which is managed by Battelle National Biodefense Institute, or BNBI, for the Department of Homeland Security.
“Closing NBACC would be bad for Frederick, but it would be worse for the country: we should not do anything to weaken our biodefense capabilities,” Delaney said in a written statement after the House vote. “My amendment is really commonsense; we’re not going to close NBACC or a high-level lab like it until we have assurances from every agency that relies on the lab that our biological defense won’t be undermined.”
Earlier this week, Delaney joined Sens. Ben Cardin (D) and Chris Van Hollen (D) and Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-2nd) in sending a letter to Trump asking that he suspend any action that would lead to closing NBACC and the Chemical Security Analysis Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground.
In May, NBACC was notified that the Department of Homeland Security intends to shutter the facility by September 2018 and that all scientific research should end by March 2018.
Delaney said Friday he would continue efforts to reinstate the NBACC funding through the federal budget process.
The $696 billion defense authorization bill passed the chamber Friday morning, with Delaney joining 116 other Democrats and 227 Republicans in backing the measure.
The National Defense Authorization Act is legislation passed each year in Congress that authorizes funding levels and appropriate policies relating to national defense.
A Senate committee approved a version of the defense authorization bill last month, but that measure has not been taken up by the full chamber. The House and Senate versions of the annual legislation will have to be reconciled before the measure could take effect.