A sweeping pandemic preparedness bill aims to encourage CDC collaboration with the private sector, an effort to break an agency culture that a top Republican has described as so insular that it has helped to test delays and other issues early in the pandemic.
“I think it’s cultural because there’s a struggle to produce anything that’s not internally generated,” the senator said.
Burr and HELP chair
The CDC “does not have a public-private partnership or relationship” historically, Burr said, but he noted that private sector collaborations such as Operation Warp Speed were key to developing Covid-19 vaccines. 19 in record time.
“The bill is heavy on the reform of the CDC. Because to successfully put in place the kind of framework we need for the future, it will take three things: leadership, communication and innovation. Leadership not only requires the ability to run an agency, but also to seek the help you need to do so successfully,” he said.
The National Institutes of Health has a number of public-private partnerships, both to fight the pandemic and those formed earlier, like the one created in 2014 with two dozen pharmaceutical companies, US and European regulators and organizations to nonprofit to transform the development of diagnostics and treatments for diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Burr said he wanted to see similar efforts at the CDC.
“When you challenge the private sector” and combine it with government-funded research, “they can accomplish incredible things very quickly,” he said.
Burr and Murray have indicated they are open to other legislative proposals as the bill is finalized, as the President
“Patty and I are committed to getting a bill through committee,” he said. “At the end of the day, he won’t have everything the Republicans want and he won’t have everything the Democrats want. But I think we’re going to be able to maintain a bipartisan approach.”
‘Most important thing’
A key change is that the position of CDC director would require Senate confirmation, which Burr called “the most important thing we’ve done.” He noted that this was not a criticism of CDC Director Rochelle Walensky.
The change would make the agency chief more accountable to Congress. The bill would also require the CDC director to appear annually before the HELP committee and for the agency to develop a strategic plan every four years.
Most of the work on the bill will take place in committee, so major negotiations will take place over the next few weeks in preparation for a committee markup that will prepare the bill for a floor vote.
Burr said he expects the bill to have a robust amendment process as it moves through the committee as well as the Senate.
“Our main focus is how to skate to where the puck is versus where the puck is today. We have to anticipate how to fit into this thought process a new virus, or a new anything that might exist that we see as a threat,” he said.