Collins proposes independent coronavirus commission

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) on Sept. 23 introduced a bipartisan bill that would create an independent, nonpartisan commission designed to improve the nation’s preparedness and response to future pandemics.

“As our nation responds to the current public health and economic crisis,” Sen. Collins said, “we must also work to ensure that our country is better prepared for future epidemics and pandemics.”

Sen. Collins is the original cosponsor of the National Coronavirus Commission Act of 2020, S. 4666, with bill sponsor U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), which would establish the 10-member Commission on the Coronavirus Pandemic in the United States.

The new entity would be closely modeled after the 9/11 Commission, which investigated the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and would be tasked with assessing the nation’s preparedness and response to COVID-19, as well as providing recommendations to Congress on improving future readiness. 

The bipartisan commission “would assess our country’s successes as well as areas in need of improvement in responding to COVID-19,” explained Sen. Collins. “It would also examine ways we can strengthen our public health systems and protect our communities.”

If enacted, S. 4666 would authorize an independent body comprised of U.S. experts in government service, public health, commerce, scientific research, public administration, intelligence gathering, national security, and/or foreign affairs, according to a bill summary provided by Sen. Collins’ office. 

The members would be appointed within 30 days following the expiration of the current pandemic by the president and congressional leadership, with each political party selecting five members, according to the summary, which noted that the commission also would be required to hire an ethics counsel to address potential and actual conflicts of interest by any member.

The bill would provide the National Coronavirus Commission with a broad mandate and subpoena power to examine the facts related to the emergence and spread of COVID-19 in the United States, among numerous other provisions, the summary says.

“Throughout history, Americans have repeatedly come together to overcome challenges,” said Sen. Collins. “Following the devastating terrorist attacks on Sept. 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,” she added. 

U.S. Reps. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) plan soon to introduce companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The measure has been endorsed by officials and experts from both Republican and Democratic administrations, including former U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretaries Jeh Johnson and Michael Chertoff and Federal Reserve Chairs Janet Yellen and Ben Bernanke, as well as by BPC (Bipartisan Policy Center) Action, the American Health Care Association, The Project on Government Oversight, Small Business Majority, the Alliance for Aging Research, and the Alzheimer’s Association, among others.