Alameda County — Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) has introduced two bills that supporters say would better prepare the federal government to treat pandemics, such as COVID-19, as national security threats.
The National Security Council Modernization Act (NSCMA) would provide the secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), who oversees the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a seat on the National Security Council (NSC).
The Biosecurity Information Optimization for Defense (BIO Defense) Act would create a National Biodefense Directorate, formalizing a bipartisan plan enacted by Congress in 2016 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, that includes the vice president and Cabinet secretaries.
The directorate would be charged with meeting regularly, hiring staff, and establishing uniform data collection methods to monitor and update national security risks posed by pandemics.
“COVID-19 must be seen as a wake-up call for the national security threats posed by major pandemics,” Swalwell said. “Infectious disease outbreaks bring not only human suffering but also massive economic losses, and political instability, especially if outbreaks are serious enough to overwhelm our health care system, drain the workforce, and interrupt supply chains, which clearly puts our national security at risk.”
Swalwell said giving the HHS secretary of Health and Human Services a seat on the NSC would ensure that emerging public health threats are evaluated as potential national security threats.
He said the bill would also strengthen the NSC by making the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of National Intelligence permanent members, and by allowing only Senate-confirmed officers of the United States to serve as full members, thus limiting the president’s ability to politicize the NSC.
Swalwell said the BIO Defense Act would in addition require the new directorate to develop a national strategy to combat misinformation and ensure that the American people get the best information available quickly and effectively in a public health crisis.
“The COVID-19 pandemic showed us that public health misinformation – particularly on social media – can jeopardize America’s response to biological threats, unnecessarily putting people in harm’s way,” Swalwell said. “Knowledge is power during a pandemic, and government must actively promote fact-based information – while actively debunking and preventing the spread of lies, be they deliberate or panic-induced – to save lives.”
As of publication, neither bill had been assigned a House number or assigned to a committee for hearings.