Sen. Bob Menendez was joined by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) in introducing bipartisan legislation that would create an independent, non-partisan commission to investigate the nation’s preparedness and response to COVID-19.
The commission, modeled after the 9/11 Commission established in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks and co-chaired by former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean, would provide recommendations to improve readiness for future epidemics and pandemics.
“We can never put our country, our communities and our families through this again,” said Sen. Menendez. “We need to understand what we did right, what we did wrong and what we can do better to strengthen our public health systems and supply chains, protect communities and vulnerable populations, improve coordination across all levels of government and the private sector, and advance scientific research so our nation is more prepared and able to respond to future public health threats.”
The National Coronavirus Commission Act of 2020
The bill would create a ten-member independent body, with chairs filled by prominent Americans with expertise in a variety of roles spanning government service to public healths to foreign affairs.
All members would be appointed within 30 days following the end of the public health emergency declared by Health and Human Services. Members would be selected by the President and Congressional leadership, with each political party responsible for electing five members.
The National Coronavirus Commission would craft policy recommendations following researching the nation’s response to the virus.
Duties of the Commission
Sectors covered would include the structure, coordination, management policies, and procedures at the state, federal, and local level.
The National Coronavirus Commission will hold public hearings and issue a publicly available report to the President and Congress within 18 months of its inception, with the possibility of limited extensions if necessary.
Sen. Menendez argued the legislation was not about pointing fingers, but learning from the nation’s failures in order to protect future generations.
A Focus on Learning, not Blame
“In the aftermath of the worst public health catastrophe in our lifetimes, we will need to come together, as we did after 9/11, and do the serious, necessary work to protect American lives, because if we fail to learn anything from COVID-19, we are doomed to repeat this,” he said.
Sen. Collins echoed the thought, arguing the 9/11 Commission served as a worthy benchmark in developing the new team.
“The legislation Sen. Menendez and I have introduced would establish a similar bipartisan commission that would assess our country’s successes as well as areas in need of improvement in responding to COVID-19,” stated Collins. “It would also examine ways we can strengthen our public health systems and protect our communities.”
Broad Support from Former Government Officials
Former government officials, including two former Fed Chairs and two former Department of Homeland Security (DHS) secretaries, were among those lending their support to the bill.
Jeh Johnson, who served as secretary of DHS under President Barack Obama and serves on Gov. Phil Murphy’s Restart and Recovery Commission, and Michael Chertoff, who filled the role in George W. Bush’s administration, argued the bill would establish a baseline for protecting against future threats. They cited the success of the 9/11 Commission as a reason for embracing the strategy in a post-COVID-19 world.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed 200,000 American lives, cost millions of Americans their jobs and incomes, and disproportionately harmed lower-paid workers, women, and communities of color,” said former Chair of the Federal Reserve Janet Yellen.
“It is critical that we examine our nation’s response to COVID-19 and how our ability to contain a public health crisis is inextricably tied to the success of the country’s economy,” she continued.
Menendez said the commission will make a full and complete accounting of the nation’s preparedness and response, including:
- Medical intelligence
- Understanding the pandemic’s spread in the U.S.
- Communication sharing with foreign governments regarding public health threats, including early warning, detection, prevention and response
- Interagency communication and information sharing
- Public health surveillance and testing
- Availability of medical equipment and supplies
- Hospital preparedness
- Scientific research
- Economic relief policies
- Impacts on communities of color, rural communities and other underserved populations and older adults
- Impacts on elementary, secondary and higher education
- Impacts on nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other congregate care settings
- Federal guidance, assistance, coordination, and mandates for State, local, Tribal, and territorial governments