Should the U.S. Have an Interagency Council to Prevent Threats Due to Global Infectious Diseases? (H.R. 391)
Do you support or oppose this bill?
What is H.R. 391?
(Updated March 12, 2022)
This bill, the Global Health Security Act of 2021, would direct the president to create a Global Health Security Agency Interagency Review Council to implement the Global Health Security Agenda. The Global Health Security Agenda is an initiative launched by nearly 30 nations to address global infectious disease threats.
The Council would meet at least four times per year to fulfill its obligations, which would include:
Providing policy recommendations on goals, objectives, and implementation related to the Global Health Security Agenda;
Helping federal agencies with implementation of the Global Health Security Agenda; and
- Reviewing the progress toward and challenges related to achieving U.S. commitments to the Global Health Security Agenda, including the provision of assistance to help other countries meet the agenda’s targets.
Additionally, this bill would direct federal agencies involved with the agenda to prioritize its implementation and to take certain steps, such as developing plans outlining their anticipated contributions to the agenda, to achieve that goal.
Finally, this bill would require the president to appoint a U.S. Coordinator for Global Health Security to coordinate and report on the interagency process for responding to global health security emergencies.
Argument in favor
The COVID-19 pandemic has proven once again that infectious diseases are a global threat. It would benefit the U.S. and the world for the U.S. federal government to have an interagency council and senior-level point person to coordinate efforts targeted at infectious disease threat detection and mitigation.
The U.S. already contributes a significant amount of money to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, which is similar to the fund proposed in this legislation. Rather than creating more interagency confusion, it would be better for the U.S. to help strengthen international organizations, such as the Global Fund, which are already established for the purpose of infectious disease monitoring, containment, and eradication.
U.S. efforts to fight global infectious diseases; the Global Health Security Agenda; interagency cooperation on infectious disease control; and the President.
Cost of H.R. 391
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that this bill would cost $2.95 billion over the 2021-2026 period.
In-Depth: Sponsoring Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA), President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, reintroduced this bill from the 116th Congress to take a whole-of-government approach to preventing future pandemics and reaffirm the United States’ commitment to promoting global health security. In a joint statement, Rep. Connolly and lead Republican cosponsor Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) said:
“More than 400,000 Americans and two million people across the world have died from the Coronavirus. Disease knows no borders, and this pandemic must be a wakeup call for Congress that the federal government must have a coordinated strategy with empowered leaders to prepare for future pandemics. By recognizing the critical role of U.S. leadership in international health security, enshrining U.S. global health security policy in statute, and ensuring that there is a permanent designated official responsible for coordinating these efforts in a strategic way, our legislation makes sure the United States is never caught off guard by future public health crises.”
In a joint op-ed for The Hill, Reps. Chabot and Connolly underscored the importance of a senior-level point person to address “unusual, high consequence biological events” such as Ebola or COVID-19:
“For unusual, high consequence, biological events, like the Ebola or coronavirus outbreaks, overarching, senior-level, clear coordination is essential because the normal interagency process becomes muddled. During such events, U.S. departments and agencies are unable to provide clear guidance or oversight to one another, and precious time is lost – costing lives and economic consequences. Even when we are not in a crisis, the fact that our global health security capacities are spread across a dozen agencies calls for sustained leadership from the top.”
After this bill’s passage through the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Connolly said:
“The global COVID-19 pandemic has underscored not only the need for a robust federal response to such a crisis, but also the importance of investing in global health security and pandemic preparedness around the world because diseases do not stop at borders. I welcome the fact that the House Foreign Affairs Committee has coalesced around a bipartisan solution that addresses deficiencies in the current pandemic response effort as well as demonstrates a commitment to a comprehensive and sustainable approach to global health security going forward.”
The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) supports this legislation. In a January 21, 2021 letter, the organization’s Director of Public Policy and Advocacy, Allen D. Segal, wrote:
“We support the goal of this legislation, which authorizes a comprehensive, strategic approach to U.S. foreign assistance to strengthen global health security in developing countries… A strong global health security (GHS) agenda is critical for international engagement and capacity building in public health… ASM understands firsthand the importance of securing our borders against both natural and intentional biological threats. The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that our world is more interconnected than ever. What happens in environments in remote areas of the world can quickly become international public health emergencies because microbes are unimpeded by the construct of human borders… We need to look no further than the COVID-19 pandemic to realize the responsibility we have to collaborate with nations around the globe when outbreaks arise. It is time for the United States to recommit to a strong, global health security agenda.”
This bill passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee by voice vote with the support of 76 bipartisan House cosponsors, including 70 Democrats and six Republicans. It is endorsed by a number of global health and advocacy groups, including Global Citizen, Global Health Council, he American Society of the Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, and Management Sciences for Health (MSH), and others.
In the 116th Congress, Rep. Connolly introduced this legislation with the support of 82 bipartisan House cosponsors, including 73 Democrats and nine Republicans, and it passed the House by voice vote. Its Senate companion, sponsored by Sen. Angus King (I-ME), had one cosponsor, Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and did not receive a committee vote.
Of Note: President Barack Obama launched the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) by executive order in November 2016. At the time, the Ebola epidemic in West Africa was spreading rapidly.
When President Obama launched the GHSA, the U.S. announced its intent to invest over $1 billion in resources to expand the GHSA to prevent, detect, and respond to future infectious disease outbreaks in 17 countries and to work in others around the world to extend disease-fighting efforts. The initial 17 partner countries were Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Vietnam.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) notes that the U.S. already contributes to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, which is similar to the fund proposed in this legislation.
Sponsoring Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA) Press Release After Committee Passage
Original Cosponsor Rep. Steve Chabor (R-OH) Press Release
Reps. Gerald Connolly (D-VA) and Steve Chabot (R-OH) Joint Op-Ed
CBO Cost Estimate
American Society for Microbiology (ASM) Letter (In Favor)
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / Ca-ssis)
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