Collins, Menendez Introduce Bill to Create Independent Commission to Assess, Improve upon COVID-19 Response

Modeled after 9/11 Commission, COVID-19 Commission will have broad mandate to investigate, identify lessons learned, and craft recommendations to improve U.S. pandemic readiness, response

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) introduced bipartisan legislation to create an independent, non-partisan commission, closely modeled after the 9/11 Commission that investigated the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, to assess the nation’s preparedness and response to COVID-19, and provide recommendations to improve our country’s readiness for future epidemics and pandemics. 


“As our nation responds to the current public health and economic crisis, we must also work to ensure that our country is better prepared for future epidemics and pandemics,” said Senator Collins.  “Throughout history, Americans have repeatedly come together to overcome challenges.  Following the devastating terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, for example, the independent, bipartisan 9/11 Commission that Congress established provided a thorough review of the events and identified ways to safeguard our nation.  Many of the Commission’s recommendations were enacted into law as part of the sweeping intelligence reforms I co-authored to prevent future threats.  The legislation Senator 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.  It would also examine ways we can strengthen our public health systems and protect our communities.”


“COVID-19 has already devastated millions of American lives, pushed our health systems to the brink, decimated our economy and changed the very essence of what we call ‘normal,’” said Senator Menendez.  “We can never put our country, our communities and our families through this again.  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. 


“This is not about pointing fingers, but learning from our experiences.  Following the worst terror strike to hit our nation, the 9/11 Commission was formed under the sitting Bush Administration and its recommendations were implemented by that same administration,” continued Senator Menendez.  “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.”


The bipartisan bill has been endorsed by high-ranking officials and experts from both Republican and Democratic administrations, including former Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretaries Jeh Johnson and Michael Chertoff and Federal Reserve Chairs Janet Yellen and Ben Bernanke.  Congressmen Tom Malinowski (D-NJ-07) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL-25) will introduce companion legislation in the House of Representatives, making this bill the first and only bipartisan, bicameral proposal calling for an independent, non-partisan investigation of America’s response to COVID-19.


The National Coronavirus Commission Act of 2020 establishes a ten-member independent body comprised of prominent Americans with expertise in government service, public health, commerce, scientific research, public administration, intelligence gathering, national security, and/or foreign affairs.  All members must be appointed within 30 days following the expiration of the public health emergency declared by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.  The President and Congressional leadership will appoint the members, with each political party selecting five members.  To ensure independence, the Commission is required to hire an ethics counsel to address potential and actual conflicts of interest by any member.


The National Coronavirus Commission will have a broad mandate and subpoena power to examine the facts related to the emergence and spread of COVID-19 in the United States.  The Commission will make a full and complete accounting of the nation’s preparedness and response, including but not limited to the following topics:


·         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

·         the 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

·         State, local, Tribal, and territorial government preparedness and response


The 9/11 Commission provided a full and complete accounting of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, including preparedness for and the immediate response to the attacks.  Its final report and series of recommendations designed to guard against future attacks were widely regarded as both credible and nonpartisan, largely due to the Commission’s independence and bipartisan make-up. 


The National Coronavirus Commission will craft policy recommendations after identifying the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic regarding the structure, coordination, management policies, and procedures of the Federal Government, and State and local governments and nongovernmental entities.  Those recommendations will seek to improve the ability of all levels of government and the private sector to prevent, respond to and prepare for future epidemics and pandemics, and mitigate the human, economic, and security costs of such events.


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.


The legislation has been endorsed by BPC (Bipartisan Policy Center) Action, the American Health Care Association, New Jersey Hospital Association, The Project on Government Oversight, The Arc of the United States, Small Business Majority, Alliance for Aging Research, Alzheimer's Association, Leading Age, and National Low Income Housing Coalition.


“The COVID-19 pandemic is one of the greatest national challenges that our country has faced.  For years, the Bipartisan Policy Center and BPC Action have been committed to bringing together bipartisan health policy experts to develop policy to improve health care in the United States.  This work will be even more critical as we rebuild our public health system after this crisis.  That is why BPC Action applauds the work of Senator Menendez and Senator Collins, whose legislation, the National Coronavirus Commission Act of 2020, would establish a National Coronavirus Commission to examine the United States’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic and provide recommendations to improve our nation’s preparedness for future epidemics and pandemics,” said BPC Action Senior Manager Kate Cassling.  “As a country, it is critical that we examine the challenges that we are facing today and use the lessons learned from those challenges to build a stronger, more resilient public health system to protect from future crises; the National Coronavirus Commission Act of 2020 would help achieve this goal, and we support its passage.”


“We commend Senators Menendez and Collins for their leadership on this issue. Long term care providers agree that we must have a national discussion about a lot of aspects of our public health care system and how our country can support providers and patients alike,” Kim Zimmerman, vice president of the American Health Care Association, said.  “We hope efforts like this can help identify future changes that will prioritize our long term care residents and staff to avoid the devastating consequences that this pandemic has caused.  The public health system’s focus on our most vulnerable and their caregivers must improve.”  


“COVID-19 has presented a public health crisis on a scale that hasn’t been seen in a century.  The response has shown the tremendous commitment of the healthcare community, but it also has revealed the challenges faced across all sectors,” said Cathy Bennett, New Jersey Hospital Association president and CEO.  “NJHA commends Senator Menendez and Senator Collins for introducing this measure to help us understand what worked well in the COVID-19 response and what we can do to work better and smarter to protect our communities in the future.”


"Our federal response to the global coronavirus pandemic has been marked with delay, confusion, and a lack of clear leadership.  The Project On Government Oversight applauds this bipartisan National Coronavirus Commission Act of 2020 to create a commission to examine these and other shortcomings in the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic and make recommendations to improve our ability to prepare and respond to future emergencies,” said Liz Hempowicz, director of public policy at The Project on Government Oversight.


“We are pleased to support this important bi-partisan effort to ensure that we have a full accounting of the National response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  We specifically thank Senators Menendez and Collins for ensuring that the Commission is charged with reviewing the health and economic impacts of the pandemic on people with disabilities, a population that is far too often overlooked in the face of crises, this information will be vitally important,” said Nicole Jorwic, senior director of public policy at The Arc of the United States.


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