Washington, DC Update

Posted 13 February 2023

The House Energy and Commerce (E&C) Committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee recently held a hearing titled, Challenges and Opportunities to Investigating the Origins of Pandemics and Other Biological Events. In her opening remarks, Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rogers (R-WA) conveyed her hope that the hearing would help “inform bipartisan efforts…to reauthorize pandemic preparedness legislation.” Witnesses included Karen Howard, Acting Chief Scientist and Director of Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics, GAO; Tom Inglesby, Director of the Center for Health Security, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; Asha George, Executive Director of the Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense; Gerald Parker, Associate Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Services, Texas A&M University; and Michael Imperiale, Professor, University of Michigan Medical School. The witnesses broadly emphasized the need for more collaboration to increase biosurveillance and biosecurity.

Read More:

• House Republicans Launch Two New Select Subcommittees to Investigate COVID-19 
• Senate Republicans Revitalize Effort to Ban Federally-Funded Gain-of-Function Research 
• Biden Administration Announces Final Extension of COVID-19 Emergency Declarations
• CDC Center for Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics Officially Established 
• USAID Releases Annual R&D Report to Congress for FY 2022 
• DoD Launches New Strategy to Counter Future Chemical-Biological Threats 
• White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Releases New Framework for Strengthening Federal Scientific Integrity Policies and Practices
House Republicans Launch Two New Select Subcommittees to Investigate COVID-19
Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) officially empaneled two new select committees to investigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. For the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, Speaker McCarthy tapped Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) to serve as chair along with Reps. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Thomas Massie (R-KY), Chris Stewart (R-UT), Elise Stefanik (R-NY), Mike Johnson (R-LA), Chip Roy (R-TX), Kelly Armstrong (R-AL), Greg Steube (R-FL), Dan Bishop (R-NC), Kat Cammack (R-FL) and Harriet Hageman (R-WY) as committee members. Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) will serve as Chair of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic and Reps. Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY), Mariannette Miller Meeks (R-IA), Debbie Lesko (R-AZ), Michael Cloud (R-TX), John Joyce (R-PA), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Ronny Jackson (R-TX) and Rich McCormick (R-GA) will serve as committee members.
Senate Republicans Revitalize Effort to Ban Federally-Funded Gain-of-Function Research
Senator Roger Marshall (R-KS) recently reintroduced his Viral Gain-of-Function Research Moratorium Act, which seeks to place a mortarium on all federal research grants involving gain-of-function research with pathogens. The bill was co-signed by 12 other Senate Republicans. The legislation followed the release of a new Office of the Inspector General report that chided the NIH for grant mismanagement and poor oversight of research conducted by EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit that has been criticized by Republican lawmakers for funding COVID-19-related research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China. The audit reviewed three NIH grants to EcoHealth totaling $8 million, which included a sub-grant to the WIV. The report found that NIH failed to effectively monitor or take timely action to address compliance issues involving EcoHealth and did not carry out sufficient oversight of the research conducted.
Biden Administration Announces Final Extension of COVID-19 Emergency Declarations
On January 30, the Biden Administration announced its intent to end the COVID-19 national emergency and public health emergency on May 11, 2023. The two emergency declarations are set to expire March 1 and April 11, respectively. The end of both declarations will have numerous public health implications. Specifically, access to medical countermeasures that have been made available to the public through FDA emergency use authorizations will end and cost-sharing of certain at-home testing, vaccines and treatments, like Paxlovid, will likely shift to consumers. These changes, along with others, could stifle future global health R&D if permanent policy solutions are not enacted.

CDC Center for Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics Officially Established
The Center for Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics is officially a part of the CDC. The new center’s mission is to improve the nation’s ability to prepare for and respond to infectious disease threats using data, modeling and analytics. The creation of the CFA was initially authorized by the National Security Memorandum on United States Global Leadership to Strengthen the International COVID-19 Response and to Advance Global Health Security and Biological Preparedness (Section 5B) and the American Rescue Plan (Section 2404), which respectively called for the creation of a public health data surveillance and analytics infrastructure. CFA’s responsibilities will include:
  • Forecasting, modeling and characterizing the risks associated with outbreaks
  • Informing public health decision-makers and the public
  • Innovating public health solutions and capabilities related to forecasting, surveillance and analytics
  • Accelerating access to and use of data for public health decision-makers to mitigate the effects of disease threats
  • Serving as a hub for research and development for public health analytics and modeling
Within its structure, CFA will have several branches, including an Innovate Branch, a Real Time Monitoring Branch and an Analytics Response Branch, and several divisions including an Inform Division, Predict Division and a Technology and Innovation Division.

USAID Releases Annual R&D Report to Congress for FY 2022
USAID released its annual report to Congress on health-related R&D. The report includes spending details on USAID’s R&D programming in fiscal year 2021. It also highlights developments in health products and implementation science research across various focus areas including TB, global health security, NTDs, malaria, HIV/AIDS, reproductive health, maternal and child health, nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene, and health systems strengthening. The report also includes an appendix (page 10) that identifies health gaps for USAID-supported products and how USAID-support could improve programmatic implementation and enhance access, uptake and use of healthcare products and technologies.

DoD Launches New Strategy to Counter Future Chemical-Biological Threats
The U.S. Department of Defense is launching the Chemical and Biological Defense Program’s Enhanced Medical Countermeasures Approach to develop medical treatments, vaccines and personal protective equipment that can adapt to a range of evolving biological and chemical threats, said Ian Watson, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Chemical and Biological Defense. The new DoD framework is a shift from the department’s longtime approach, which previously focused on developing threat-specific countermeasures. Watson said that the change is shaped in large part by the COVID-19 pandemic and also the evolving biological-chemical threat landscape that makes it impossible to tell whether a new threat is naturally occurring or intentionally manipulated by adversaries.
White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Releases New Framework for Strengthening Federal Scientific Integrity Policies and Practices
The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) announced the release of a new A Framework for Federal Scientific Integrity Policy and Practice, a roadmap that will help strengthen scientific integrity policies and practices across the federal government. The guidance document notably includes a consistent definition of “scientific integrity” to be used across all agencies and a model scientific integrity policy to help guide agency policymaking. The framework also requires all agencies to designate a scientific integrity official and agencies that fund, conduct or oversee research to designate a chief science officer. It also establishes a new National Science and Technology Council Subcommittee on Scientific Integrity to oversee implementation of the framework and evaluate agency progress.