04.10.20

Schiff, Feinstein, Harris Introduce Legislation to Establish Bipartisan Coronavirus Commission to Examine U.S. Response

Washington, DC – Today, Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) introduced legislation in the House that would establish a bipartisan commission to provide a full accounting of the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, just as similar commissions have been established after other great national tragedies. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala D. Harris (both D-CA) plan to introduce companion legislation in the Senate. The commission would conduct a rigorous and comprehensive review of the coronavirus response and make recommendations on how we can be better prepared in the future, and will complement other oversight efforts in Congress and elsewhere. 

The coronavirus commission will examine U.S. government preparedness in advance of this pandemic, the Federal government’s response to it, and provide recommendations to improve our ability to respond to and recover from future outbreaks, epidemics, and pandemics. This legislation from Schiff, Feinstein and Harris is modeled after, and closely mirrors, legislation enacted in 2002 to create the 9/11 Commission in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the United States. As with the 9/11 Commission, the coronavirus commission will also examine state and local governments' preparedness and response.

The legislation being introduced today is co-sponsored in the House by Representatives Gilbert R. Cisneros, Jr. (D-CA), Brad Sherman (D-CA), Peter Welch (D-VT), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ), David Trone (D-MD), and Denny Heck (D-WA), and co-sponsored in the Senate by Senators Ed Markey (D-MA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).

“After Pearl Harbor, September 11, and other momentous events in American history, independent, bipartisan commissions have been established to provide a complete accounting of what happened, what we did right and wrong, and what we can do to better protect the country in the future,” said Representative Schiff. “And though we are still early in this crisis, over sixteen thousand Americans have died so far. It is clear that a comprehensive and authoritative review will be required, not as a political exercise to cast blame, but to learn from our mistakes to prevent history from tragically repeating itself. Over the last week, I’ve talked with my colleagues, former commissioners, and experts, and incorporated a number of their strong recommendations into this legislation, and will continue working with other Members interested in this critical issue to come to a consensus in the coming weeks and months.”

“The coronavirus showed just how unprepared and slow we were to respond to a major outbreak. And that lack of readiness endangered lives,” said Senator Feinstein. “We weren’t able to ramp up testing, we didn’t have enough safety equipment for doctors and nurses and we lacked any kind of consistent federal guidelines for states and cities. We know this won’t be the last outbreak, so a 9/11 Commission-style panel is necessary to fix these mistakes going forward and apply the lessons from this pandemic to future crises.”

"Keeping residents safe in dangerous times is a fundamental responsibility of government. Yet the past two months have made clear that the federal government was unprepared to confront the coronavirus pandemic and economic crisis, let alone both at the same time," said Senator Harris. "I'm proud to help introduce this bill because we must carefully document government's actions and mistakes in order to correct them when preparing and responding to future crises. The commission needs to take a holistic approach to oversight, and cannot leave out an analysis of the disturbing disparity in prevention and health outcomes in the Black community."

The Coronavirus Commission would:

  • Be composed of ten members, with the same partisan balance as the 9/11 commissioners and prohibited from being current federal officials, with a variety of backgrounds in relevant fields, including public health, epidemiology, emergency preparedness, armed services, and intelligence;
  • Provide a full accounting to the President, Congress, and the American people of the facts and circumstances related to the outbreak in the United States, including our preparedness, the intelligence and information we had available before the virus reached the United States, and how federal, state, and local governments, as well as the private sector, responded to the crisis;
  • Hold hearings and public events to obtain information and to educate the public;
  • Possess subpoena power to compel cooperation by relevant witnesses and materials from the federal government, as well as state and local governments;
  • Make specific recommendations to Congress and the Executive Branch to improve our preparedness for pandemic disease;
  • Have adequate staffing and resources to be able to complete expeditiously the monumental task at hand so we can be prepared for the next epidemic or pandemic to hit the nation; and
  • Would not be established until February 2021, hopefully after the pandemic has been overcome and after the presidential election.

Numerous experts, including several former members of the 9/11 Commission, provided feedback on the legislation. As a result, the bill contains a number of improvements including a presumption in favor of public hearings, mechanisms to encourage in person meetings among the commissioners, and several other additions that build on the 9/11 commission structure.

The legislation can be found here.