House Intel Democrats roll out bill to require National Intelligence Estimate on threat of COVID-19, other pandemics

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Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee rolled out legislation Tuesday that would require the director of National Intelligence to produce a an estimate on the threat of global pandemic disease in the wake of COVID-19.

Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Democrats on the panel introduced the legislation which would require DNI John Ratcliffe to create a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which are the intelligence community’s “preeminent strategic assessments” and are reserved for “the most serious of issues with domestic, global and national security implications and consequences.”

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The NIE, according to the committee, will help posture the government to deal with future epidemics and pandemics, as well as assess the impact of the novel coronavirus on the international security environment.

“Even as we continue to respond to this pandemic, which has taken more than 115,000 American lives, our nation has to be prepared for future diseases and viruses that come to our shores. That’s why Congress should request a National Intelligence Estimate,” Schiff said. “By knowing more about how the world is postured to deal with future pandemics, and how the current pandemic will reshape both our national security and the international community, we can be better prepared to respond to similar outbreaks in the future.”

The legislation, according to Schiff’s office, would require the intelligence community to produce an assessment of the possible courses of the pandemic during the 18 months following the date of the estimate; an assessment of the global public health system, including opportunities to advance the development of an effective global disease surveillance; and a response system.

The legislation would also require the executive branch to produce reports for a plan for a “whole-of-government response” to a potential second wave of COVID-19 and other pandemic diseases, as well as a global strategy for “mobilizing international institutions” to combat the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, Schiff earlier this year, alongside Sens. Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein, announced legislation that would create a bipartisan 9/11-style commission to probe the federal government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.

The commission, according to the three Democrats, will “examine U.S. government preparedness in advance of this pandemic, the federal government’s response to it, and provide recommendations to improve our ability to respond to and recover from future outbreaks, epidemics and pandemics.” The commission will also examine state and local governments’ preparedness and response.

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The commission is modeled after the 9/11 Commission, which was formed in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. According to the Democratic lawmakers, it would be composed of 10 members, with “the same partisan balance as the 9/11 commissioners,” and would provide “a full accounting to the President, Congress and the American people” related to the coronavirus outbreak, and how federal, state, local governments and the private sector responded to the crisis.

The commission would hold public hearings and events to obtain information, and, as Schiff suggested last week, would “possess subpoena power” to compel cooperation from federal, state and local governments.

The commission, though, is not expected to be established until February 2021 “hopefully after the pandemic has been overcome and after the presidential election,” they said.