New York Officials Fear Closing of U.S. Lab Combating Biological Threats:

New York Officials Fear Closing of U.S. Lab Combating Biological Threats:

The Trump administration has proposed closing a a New York-based laboratory as part of larger cuts it envisions for the Department of Homeland Security’s scientific research and development programs.CreditHyungwon Kang/Reuters

WASHINGTON — The Department of Homeland Security plans to close a New York-based laboratory that has helped the city’s Police and Fire Departments develop systems to detect nuclear and biological threats, a move that some local officials fear could hamper the city’s efforts to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks.

The radiological program that the facility, the National Urban Security Technology Laboratory, developed with the New York Fire Department is widely considered the national standard, and technologies it has tested are in widespread use around the country. It has also worked on systems to combat drug trafficking and money laundering: Portable card readers it tested have helped officials recover millions of dollars in drug proceeds smuggled across borders using gift and other prepaid cards.

“The lab has provided an invaluable amount of information to us over the years, including helping us understand biological and nuclear threats when nobody understood that stuff,” said Gerard McCarty, the director of emergency management at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. “And they continue to provide critical support to us in researching and testing technologies.”

The Trump administration has proposed closing the lab as part of larger cuts it envisions for the Department of Homeland Security’s scientific research and development programs. The administration’s budget would cut funding for these programs by more than 18 percent, from $771 million in the last fiscal year to $627 million this year, according to budget documents.

In an email, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security said the elimination of spending on the lab and other programs would allow the agency’s research arm, the Science and Technology Directorate, to focus on the administration’s top priorities, including border security, counterterrorism, explosives and cybersecurity.

The spokesman said the research and testing could be done elsewhere, including at Department of Energy laboratories, adding that such work did not rely solely on the facility in New York.

But in interviews, law enforcement and emergency management officials in New York and New Jersey, as well as members of Congress from both parties, said they were concerned about the potential loss of a Homeland Security research facility in a city that remains a top target for terrorists.

Some officials pointed out that the lab’s annual budget was just $3.4 million, and others noted that the lab’s work had saved communities millions of dollars in research costs.

“It’s less than a pittance in the federal budget,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut. “It’s not even a fraction of a rounding error and has broad ramifications and impact on the law enforcement community.”

Mr. Blumenthal and three other Democratic senators recently wrote a letter to members of the Senate Appropriations Committee asking them to include funding for the lab in the 2018 budget, saying the loss of the facility would have serious repercussions for national security. The other signers were Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Christopher S. Murphy of Connecticut.

In the House, Representative Dan Donovan, Republican of New York, sponsored an amendment to a spending bill, passed in September, that would maintain the lab’s funding.

“Today, the United States — and specifically New York City — faces a heightened terror environment,” Mr. Donovan in a statement. “Bombing attempts in New York and New Jersey last year, as well as global attacks in public areas and on mass transit systems, remind us of the importance of developing innovative technologies that allow security personnel to respond to and mitigate evolving threats.”

Some experts said they doubted that other labs could easily take over the work done by the New York facility, which was established in 1947 as part of the nation’s drive to develop nuclear weapons in the Manhattan Project.

“It would be a big loss to the first responder community if the lab is closed,” said Charles Jennings, a professor at John Jay College in New York who directs the Christian Regenhard Center for Emergency Response Studies. “It’s hard to overstate the importance of what they do. Although it’s based here in New York, its impact is nationwide. It’s a service you just can’t get anywhere else.”

Congress has yet to agree on a budget for the fiscal year that began this month — the government is operating on an extension of the previous year’s spending plan — but staff members at the urban security lab have been told to begin making preparations for its closing.


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