Ranking Member Ruiz’s Opening Statement at Select Subcommittee Hearing on Biosafety and Biosecurity
Washington, D.C. (October 18, 2023)—Below is Ranking Member Raul Ruiz’s, M.D. opening statement, as prepared for delivery, at today’s Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic hearing examining pathways to strengthen biosafety and biosecurity standards.
Today’s hearing is on a topic of critical importance to our national security and our public health.
The fact is, we don’t know how and when the next pandemic could strike.
And in order for us to truly be equipped to prevent it, we must devote the time and resources now to strengthening our biosafety and biosecurity so that we can ensure the health and safety of Americans all across the country.
While the path to a bio-secure future lies ahead, I am pleased that today’s hearing offers the potential to be forward-looking—something my Democratic colleagues and I have called for since the Select Subcommittee first convened in February.
And I hope that during today’s hearing, we can identify workable, forward-looking solutions to not only bolster pandemic preparedness, but also foster innovation and sustain our country’s global leadership and competitiveness.
At the center of these solutions must be a whole-of-government approach that recognizes and prioritizes the intersection of our nation’s health and security.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, our nation has taken important steps forward in advancing this approach, with targeted investments in pandemic prevention, refined policies to promote biological risk management, and evidence-informed recommendations to improve overall biosafety and biosecurity.
In fact, last year’s Consolidated Appropriations Act included robust funding for key biodefense programs, including the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, which leads the federal government’s efforts to develop countermeasures in response to public health emergencies and biological threats both domestic and abroad.
At the behest of congressional Democrats, the Consolidated Appropriations Act also worked to address public health and security threats in the realm of biomedical research, including by improving oversight of research involving select agents and toxins.
Compounding this work are the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity’s recommendations to strengthen existing oversight of research that raises biosafety and biosecurity concerns.
Released this March after Secretary Becerra tasked the NSABB to evaluate our nation’s biosafety and biosecurity frameworks, these recommendations demonstrate a sound start for enhanced biosafety and biosecurity standards here in the United States.
These are all promising steps forward, and I look forward to discussing them in more detail here today.
However, it’s important to note that our work to enhance biosafety and biosecurity cannot and should not end here.
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.
That’s why I was glad to see President Biden’s Executive Order focused on growing our own bioeconomy take action to promote biosafety best practices abroad as well.
Right now, nations must rely on a patchwork of unenforced lab safety standards to shape their biosafety and biosecurity policies.
The question of how we can work together to reduce the overall threat of biological incidents remains largely unanswered, especially when emerging technologies further complicate our work every day. So now is the time for us to act.
On the global stage, the United States must boldly lead the international community in the work of building a culture of collaboration around shared norms that reduce the risk of inadvertent and deliberate biological threats.
And here in the Select Subcommittee, if we remain united around our common goal of protecting the health and safety of our communities, of fortifying our biodefense, and enhancing pandemic preparedness, I know that we can get there.
We have the distinct opportunity right now to make a positive change with constructive policy that improves people’s lives and prevents a future disaster.
I hope that today’s discussion moves us closer to that vision—one that bolsters biosafety, enhances biosecurity, and in turn, fortifies the health and security of Americans for generations to come.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I yield back.