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The Brief: June 19, 2012

A major federal contract for Texas' second-largest university system has drawn comparisons to NASA's arrival in Houston.

Texas A&M University

The Big Conversation:

A major federal contract for Texas' second-largest university system has drawn comparisons to NASA's arrival in Houston.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Monday that the A&M System had won a $286 million federal contract to develop one of three new national centers for researching and manufacturing drugs to respond to pandemic diseases and bioterrorism. The other two contracts were awarded to pharmaceutical companies.

"Simply put, this is one of the biggest federal grants to come to Texas since NASA was placed here some years ago," A&M System Chancellor John Sharp told an audience watching a live feed of the announcement in Austin on Monday.

As the Tribune's Reeve Hamilton reports, the project stemmed from the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, which spurred the federal government to take steps toward improving national disease and biosecurity response efforts. The contract includes an initial investment of $176.6 million from the federal government; the state of Texas has also committed $40 million to the project.

“I think it is likely to change all of Texas,” said Dr. Brett Giroir, the A&M System’s vice chancellor for strategic initiatives and the new center's principal investigator. "We really feel, in the next 25 years, this could develop into the equivalent of a Los Alamos." Giroir, a former University of Texas System official, played a key role in securing the contract for A&M.

Sharp offered praise for some higher-profile officials, too. "This is something that could not have happened without Barack Obama and Rick Perry," he told the Tribune, adding that Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus also played important roles.

Sharp said the project would create about 1,000 jobs in Texas, mostly in the Brazos Valley.


  • Paul Sadler and Grady Yarbrough, the two candidates vying in a runoff for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate, will participate in a televised debate on June 26. Dallas PBS affiliate KERA will host the one-hour debate between Sadler, the race's front-runner and a former state representative from Henderson, and Yarbrough, a retired educator who barely campaigned during the primary. KERA will also host a debate this Friday between Republican candidates Ted Cruz and David Dewhurst.
  • According to The Dallas Morning News, Ron Paul remains the only member of Texas' Republican congressional delegation who has endorsed in the U.S. Senate race to replace Kay Bailey Hutchison. Wary of voters' disillusionment with Washington, both Ted Cruz and David Dewhurst appear to have shied away from trying to woo incumbents, and members of Congress might risk their relationship with the eventual senator if their pick loses. Dewhurst said at a recent campaign stop that he hasn't focused on trying to win over elected officials. "As a contrast to my opponent, I’m focusing on what the people of Texas want," he said, according to the Morning News.
  • As the Tribune's Morgan Smith reports, black community leaders in the East Texas city of Jasper say racial tensions have hit at "an all-time high" after the dismissal of the town's first black police chief. But other residents of the town, which claims a troubled history of race relations all its own, allege that a small group has instigated the controversy.

"This is all about the November elections and getting votes from people who are illegally here." — U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, on the Obama administration's recent suspension of the deportation of some illegal immigrants


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