The Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs convened a hearing to discuss the Role of Strategic National Stockpile in Pandemic Response. Overall, Republicans pushed for a mission statement that defines what the Strategic National Stockpile is and clarifies the role of both federal and state governments.
The hearing featured testimony from:
- Julie L. Gerberding, M.D., Former Director (2002-2009) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (testimony);
- Daniel M. Gerstein, PH.D., Senior Policy Researcher, RAND Corporation (testimony);
- W. Gregory Burel, Former Director (2007-2020) of the Strategic National Stockpile at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (testimony); and
- Andrew Phelps, Director, Oregon Office of Emergency Management on behalf of the National Emergency Management Association (testimony).
In his opening statement, Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI) discussed the devastating toll that COVID-19 has had on American lives. He also criticized the Strategic National Stockpile for lacking both lists of items that should be held in stock as well as the required and actual inventory levels of each item. Ranking Member Gary C. Peters (D-MI) criticized the President for pitting states against each other by leaving them to compete with one another for crucial medical supplies.
Highlights from the Q&A:
Throughout the hearing, both Democratic and Republican Committee Members pressed the idea of becoming less reliant on foreign manufacturers in regard to our Strategic National Stockpile. Additional highlights follow:
- Chairman Ron Johnson (D-WI) pushed the need for the Strategic National Stockpile to have a clear and codified mission statement. He also posed the idea of renaming and realigning the Strategic National Stockpile to rely less on the federal government and instead go through local and state government channels first in the case of a national emergency.
- The issue of a clear and codified mission statement was also articulated by Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) and Senator Rick Scott (R-FL).
Reliance on Foreign Manufacturers
- Multiple Committee members including Ranking Member Gary C. Peters (D-MI), Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) and Senator Rick Scott (R-FL) asked about the country’s reliance on foreign manufacturers for essential stockpile supplies. Mr. Burel stated that it is vitally important for our preparedness to ensure many of the products we need are made in the United States, explaining that it would facilitate better control of the products. He recommended that the federal government work with independent contractors to entice them to come to the United States, possibly through long term contracts.
- Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) noted he has written a letter to the Defense Logistics Agency asking for a policy change from the current 90-day contracts to long term contracts to provide more certainty to American companies and encourage investment.
- Senator Rick Scott (R-FL) noted he has introduced the American Made Protection for Health Care Workers and First Responders Act (S. 3573), which would allow for the Department of Homeland Security to maintain its own Strategic National Stockpile of personal protective equipment for first responders.
- Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Senator James Lankford (R-OK) touched on the issue of expiration of supplies and the ability of the Strategic National Stockpile to keep track of all products it carries and when they expire. Mr. Burel explained that it would be helpful to have legislation that permits the stockpile to sell off supplies as they reach expiration and allows it to use those funds to buy replacement products. Mr. Burel noted he has proposed legislative text to accomplish this that he will share with the committee.
- In response to a question regarding who should lead the Strategic National Stockpile from Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Dr. Gerberding explained that the stockpile is not a warehouse but a capability. Further, she noted accountability for that capability is best left in the hands of an operating agency such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. When Senator Portman pushed for more clarity, Dr. Gerberding stated that she believes the Director of the CDC should be responsible for the Strategic National Stockpile.