We know firsthand: Public health security is national security
Nearly two decades ago, Congress passed the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act (PAHPA) to protect our country and prepare for natural disasters and biological, chemical and radiological threats. Since then, the provisions enacted in that legislation and subsequent reauthorizations have proven critical to shoring up our public health infrastructure and protecting our national health security.
With PAHPA up for reauthorization again this year, we applaud the bipartisan leadership of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and House Energy & Commerce Committees for beginning the critical work of ensuring that our nation’s preparedness programs are properly funded, sustained and improved.
The origins of PAHPA lie in our country’s response to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and the anthrax attacks that followed shortly thereafter. We intimately experienced these attacks, as one of the sitting members targeted with anthrax via the mail (Daschle) and the Senate’s public spokesman on anthrax and bioterrorism charged with easing public fears (Frist).
Together, we worked to build the legislative framework to respond to this new threat. In 2002, Congress passed the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act, establishing the Office of Public Health Emergency Preparedness, which was responsible for coordinating efforts to prepare for bioterrorism and other public health threats. Today, those efforts are run by the Department of Health and Human Service’s Administration for Strategic Readiness and Response.
Four years later, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Congress passed PAHPA to bolster our emergency preparedness and response capabilities by authorizing many of the federal government’s biodefense and pandemic preparedness programs, including the agency now known as the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response, the National Health Security Strategy and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. With bipartisan reauthorizations in 2013 and 2019, PAHPA established new programs to enhance our nation’s emergency response, including Project BioShield, and enacted measures to strengthen the role of the Food and Drug Administration in the development of medical countermeasures.
Since PAHPA’s inception and subsequent reauthorizations, both Republicans and Democrats showed overwhelming support for strengthening our nation’s preparedness for the full range of natural or manmade threats and hazards. Protecting our nation’s health and well-being should not be a partisan issue, and we call on our leaders to continue that bipartisan tradition.
This year will mark the first time Congress will be tasked with reauthorizing PAHPA following the COVID-19 pandemic. Congress must take the lessons we’ve learned over the past three years to enhance our nation’s preparedness capabilities ahead of the next pandemic — as it’s not a question of if, but when, the next one will occur. We urge Congress to avoid becoming distracted by past partisan fights or tangential policy issues. Our nation’s preparedness is too important to jeopardize, and these critical programs must not be allowed to lapse.
Congress has taken meaningful steps to improve our public health preparedness throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, including the enactment of the bipartisan PREVENT Pandemics Act in last year’s omnibus appropriations package. Congress has shown, time and time again, that it recognizes the fundamental importance of fortifying our defenses against disasters and public health crises. However, much remains to be done.
We urge Congress to capitalize on this momentum to bolster our national security and enhance our public health preparedness by reauthorizing PAHPA before its expiration on Oct. 1.
Former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), a Bipartisan Policy Center co-founder, served in the Senate from 1987 to 2005 and as Senate majority leader from 2001 to 2003. Former Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), a BPC senior fellow, is a physician. He served in the Senate from 1995 to 2007 and as Senate majority leader from 2003 to 2007.
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