February 24, 2021

Wyden, Colleagues Call for Passage of 9/11 Style COVID-19 Commission

The independent COVID-19 Commission would investigate U.S. pandemic response, identify lessons learned, craft recommendations

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden today introduced bipartisan legislation that would create an independent, non-partisan commission -- closely modeled after the 9/11 Commission that investigated the September 11, 2001 terror attacks -- to assess the nation’s pandemic preparedness and response, and provide recommendations to improve our country’s readiness for future public health crises. 

“More than 500,000 Americans have lost their lives. There is no ignoring that number.  I believe that if the past administration had taken this crisis seriously from the start, instead of playing down its severity to fuel culture wars, that more Americans would be alive and healthy today,” Wyden said.  “Congress must investigate the federal government’s response to COVID-19 to ensure this loss never happens again.” 

The National Coronavirus Commission Act of 2021 establishes a ten-member independent body comprised of prominent Americans with expertise in government service, public health, commerce, scientific research, public administration, intelligence gathering, national security, and/or foreign affairs. The Commission will hold public hearings and issue a publicly available report to the President and Congress within 18 months of its inception.

The Commission will have a broad mandate and subpoena power to examine the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, and it will make a full and complete accounting of the nation’s preparedness and response, including but not limited to the following topics:

  • communication with foreign governments regarding public health threats, including early warning, detection, prevention and response
  • federal, state and local intergovernmental coordination
  • interagency communication and information sharing
  • vaccine development and distribution
  • public health surveillance and testing
  • availability of medical equipment and supplies, including personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • preparedness and response of hospital, nursing homes and other congregate settings
  • scientific research
  • economic relief policies
  • health and economic disparities affecting racial and ethnic minority populations and other communities that have been disproportionately harmed
  • State, local, Tribal, and territorial government preparedness and response

The National Coronavirus Commission Act of 2021 is cosponsored by Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., Susan Collins, R-Maine., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.

U.S. Representatives Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.-07) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.-25) will introduce companion legislation in the House of Representatives, making this bill the only bipartisan, bicameral proposal calling for an independent, non-partisan investigation of America’s response to COVID-19.

“I support the bipartisan National Coronavirus Commission Act of 2021, modeled after the law that created the 9/11 Commission,” said former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who served under President Barack Obama.  “The full devastation from COVID-19 has yet to be realized, but we know already that it has now killed over 500,000 in this country, wrecked our economy, and pushed our public health care apparatus to the brink.  The nation on Earth with the mightiest public health care capability had the worst public health care response to COVID-19.  It didn’t have to be this way.  We could have done much better.  Now we owe it to the nation to learn from our mistakes.  The 9/11 Commission was and is a highly credible, bipartisan group of distinguished Americans that have over the years offered constructive recommendations in the aftermath of 9/11.  We must do the same for COVID-19.  This pandemic was not the first and it won’t be the last to reach American shores.  It is imperative that we take a holistic, top-to-bottom look at our nation’s response to COVID-19 and develop sound recommendations to better prepare for future public health crises.  This review must be done independently by the country’s top minds across relevant fields and without a whiff of partisanship.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic presents unprecedented challenges to our nation’s security and our ability to effectively respond to future public health threats,” said former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who served under President George W. Bush, and co-chaired the ReOpen DC Advisory Group, which provided recommendations and expert guidance on safely reopening the District of Columbia. “And while we continue to grapple with this crisis and economic fallout, we must recognize that, just as we did after the September 11th terror attacks, our government must look towards a thorough, non-partisan investigation to identify areas in which we can improve our nation’s preparedness and response to future pandemics.  That’s why I fully support the National Coronavirus Commission Act of 2021 and its creation of a 9/11-style commission to credibly look into our COVID-19 response and develop sweeping recommendations to strengthen our hospitals and public health systems, enhance our abilities to detect, track and prevent emerging health crises, safeguard our economy, and ensure we have the tools and resources necessary to protect the American people.”  

“As the nation’s first Homeland Security Secretary, I implemented many of the recommendations set forth by the independent 9/11 Commission that still, to this day, protect the nation from foreign acts of terrorism. The 9/11 Commission has proven to be the gold-standard for how we can put partisanship aside, work together in common cause to solve big problems and develop sound policies that map a clear path forward,” said former Pennsylvania Governor and U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, appointed by President George W. Bush. “I fully support the National Coronavirus Commission Act of 2021. It is vital, as a former governor, that we examine coordination and information sharing across all levels of government and how to best target help to the areas and people most in need.  The country demands an independent, non-partisan accounting of what happened, so that we can respond more efficiently and effectively, and save more lives the next time we face a public health emergency.”

Full bill text can be downloaded here.