At Select Subcommittee Hearing, Democrats Demonstrate Commitment to Enhancing Biosafety and Biosecurity
Washington, D.C. (October 18, 2023)—Today, Rep. Raul Ruiz, M.D., Ranking Member of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, led Select Subcommittee Democrats in taking a forward-looking approach to strengthening domestic and international biosafety and biosecurity standards to fortify pandemic preparedness and biodefense capabilities.
“Risks to our national health security do not end at our borders. And with every step we take to bolster lab safety and security at home, we must do so with an eye toward strengthening biosafety and biosecurity on a global scale as well,” said Ranking Member Ruiz in his opening statement.
The hearing included testimony from Dr. Jaime Yassif, Vice President of Global Biological Policy and Programs at the Nuclear Threat Initiative, and Dr. Gerald W. Parker, Jr., DVM, Associate Dean for Global One Health at the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M University.
Select Subcommittee Democrats demonstrated how congressional Democrats and the Biden Administration have taken a lessons-learned approach to biosafety and biosecurity that has paved the way toward a bio-secure future and cemented the United States’s global leadership.
- Congresswoman Deborah Ross said: “In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Democrats have been at the forefront of Congress’s work to fortify our nation’s biosafety, biosecurity, and biodefense… Last year, congressional Democrats passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023, which included $950 million in funding for the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. BARDA leads our nation’s development of medical countermeasures in response to public health emergencies, including chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear incidents and attacks, as well as outbreaks of emerging infectious diseases.”
- Congressman Robert Garcia said: “I’m also grateful that the Biden Administration has taken steps to prioritize biosafety and biosecurity, promote strong biosafety standards, and extend investments in bio-risk management, disease surveillance, and safe and responsible research.”
Select Subcommittee Democrats pushed back on House Republicans’ extreme budget cuts and policies that would undermine pandemic preparedness and biodefense capabilities.
- Congresswoman Debbie Dingell called out Republicans for proposing deep cuts to necessary pandemic prevention programs through legislation such as the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act (PAHPA): “Attempts to reauthorize critical legislation such as PAHPA currently is falling short of applying the lessons we’ve learned from the COVID-19 pandemic to improve national health security and biodefense capabilities… In fact, the current Republican PAHPA proposal would reduce funding for state and local Public Health Emergency Preparedness grants down to pre-pandemic levels. That’s a $50 million cut from current appropriations levels that would ultimately hamstring the ability of state, local, and territorial public health departments to respond to public health threats.”
- In response to questions from Congresswoman Dingell about the importance of robust investments in pandemic prevention and response, Dr. Yassif said: “If we’re really going to have an effective, layered defense against pandemic risks to the American public and the global population, we need to have both stronger biosafety and biosecurity to prevent those events happening in the first place, but we also have to have effective capabilities to detect and respond quickly. In addition to federal capabilities, state and local public health capabilities are critical and we do have to resource them at the level that’s necessary so that they can perform their role.”
Select Subcommittee Democrats called for forward-looking solutions that enhance biosafety and biosecurity at home and abroad.
- Ranking Member Ruiz noted the importance of building on current international biosafety and biosecurity standards to enhance global health security: “We must also dedicate time and energy to cultivating a shared culture of collaboration on best practices for safe research. As a leader in the global health community, the United States has a key role to play here.”
- In response to questions from Ranking Member Ruiz about how Congress can pursue strengthened international biosafety and biosecurity, Dr. Yassif said: “With rapid advances in science and technology, we have to continue to innovate and stay ahead of the curve. The emerging risks are constantly moving the goalpost, so we need to invest in innovation and biosecurity and biosafety. This will help domestically but also internationally.”
- When asked by Congressman Garcia about the need to enhance pandemic prevention efforts regardless of whether the novel coronavirus arose from a zoonotic transfer or research-related incident, Dr. Parker said: “We know enough already that we must take action at the animal, human, and environmental interface nexus—whether that’s in nature [or] whether that’s in a laboratory. Inaction is not an option.”