WASHINGTON, DC — Rep. Eric Swalwell (CA-15) today introduced two bills to better prepare the federal government to treat pandemics like COVID-19 as national security threats.
The National Security Council Modernization Act of 2021 would give the Secretary of Health and Human Services a seat on the National Security Council (NSC), while also strengthening the council against the possibility of presidential politicization. The BIO Defense Act would strengthen the National Biodefense Strategy (NBS) so we can better prepare and respond as well as combat health misinformation.
“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 is the only Member of Congress who serves on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the House Committee on Homeland Security, and the House Committee on the Judiciary.
The National Security Council Modernization Act would give the Secretary of Health and Human Services, whose department oversees the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other disease surveillance agencies, – a seat on the NSC. This would ensure that emerging public health threats are evaluated as potential national security threats, and would provide a readily-available forum for the Secretary to share information on such diseases with national security oriented departments such as the Department of Defense.
The bill also strengthens the NSC by permanently seating the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of National Intelligence, 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.
The BIO Defense Act would improve the NBS, a bipartisan plan enacted in 2016 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act by formalizing a National Biodefense Directorate including the Vice President and department secretaries. This entity would be required to meet regularly, hire staff, and establish uniform data collection methods so it can continually update the NBS to address the national security risks posed by pandemics.
Importantly, the bill would require the Directorate to develop a National Strategy Combating Biodefense Misinformation to make sure our federal government is prepared to get the best-available public health information to the American people quickly and effectively in times of crisis. U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy on Thursday declared pandemic misinformation “an urgent threat to public health.”
“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.”
To read the full text of the National Security Council Modernization Act, click here. To read the full text of the BIO Defense Act, click here. To read Rep. Swalwell’s op-ed on the bills published today by Just Security, click here.
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