Beginning at 10:05 am this morning Secretary Napolitano and Rear Admiral Anne Shuchat M.D. of the Centers for Disease Control are testifying before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. (If you have a broadband connection, you can access the webcast.)
The following is a real-time posting. I intend to restrict my attention to the broader policy-with-practice nexus on which this blog is attempting to focus. Later today I will post media coverage of the hearing.
Chairman Lieberman opens by saying, “This is a case when the government was prepared for the crisis.” He emphasizes the Secretary of Homeland Security has been given authority, by statute and presidential directive, to serve as the federal government’s emergency manager.
The Chairman quickly reviews a history of relevant law-making and policy-making. In particular he highlights the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza Implementation Plan.
Senator Collins, the ranking Republican, highlights the importance and role of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. She also raises concerns regarding bio-surveillance, distribution of countermeasures, and interagency communication/collaboration.
Secretary Napolitano repeats that the Secretary of Homeland Security is the Principal Federal Officer for Domestic Incident Management (as per HSPD-5, but she did not make this specific cite). She says, “At the Department of Homeland Security we are moving ahead in accord with planning and frameworks that have been in place for many years.”
The Secretary clarifies that, “statutory authority exists to close specific ports, but not the border as a whole.” But in the current case, such action would not be scientifically justified.
Dr. Shuchat gives substantial attention to the Strategic National Stockpile and an emergency use authority. The admiral referenced a variety of preparedness activitities that have been engaged, but she is not specific. As a result of these efforts she says,” at no time in our nation’s history have we been as well-prepared as we are today.”
Dr. Shuchat began, I think, to explain how prior plans and studies to deal with Avian Flu did contemplate containment strategies (very roughly analogous to closing the border). But those plans and studies anticipated very early identification of human-to-human transmission in an isolated location (not analogous to the current situation). But Senator McCain did not recognize where she was going.
Responding to the admiral’s assertion that she cannot foresee the need to close the border, the Chairman may be confusing social-distancing tactics from a containment strategy. The Secretary responds to both Senator McCain and the Chairman attempting to take the issue off the table.
The question of medical mutual aid agreements is raised. These exist. They have been created at the state and regional levels. But Dr. Shuchat cautions that prior planning — and the prospect of a wide-spread epidemic — may cause communities to be unwilling to share and medical professionals may be reluctant to relocate.
Information on school closures and related social-distancing options is being distributed. CDC is inclined to defer to local judgment on this matter. The Secretary says this has been a topic of conversation with governors and mayors.
A “decision-to-vaccinate” is an entirely separate decison from the decision to produce a vaccine. The Senators, the Secretary, and Dr. Shuchat all emphasize the importance of recognizing that these are very discreet issues… and need to be kept that way. Evidently this was not the case with the Ft. Dix swine flu incident in 1976.
Senator Pryor asks the Secretary about possible lessons-learned. While she concurs that lessons will be learned, she chooses not to respond directly. She explains, “right now we are too much, in it.” (her emphasis)
11:34 – I have a professional commitment that can no longer be delayed. Readers who are monitoring are invited to use the comment function to highlight other policy-with-practice aspects of the hearing.
2:00 pm – The hearing’s focus on virus-basics, closing-the-border, and vaccine production probably reflect where many citizens have concerns. The Senator’s questions and statements provided another opportunity for raising awareness and educating the public.
I understand — but regret — Secretary Napolitano’s demurring on the opportunity to discuss early lessons-learned. Anything she said in this setting and at this time would have been amplified beyond recognition. But Senator Pryor was right to ask the question. Here’s hoping the Secretary and many others are keeping notes for future reference.
The Secretary’s formal prepared testimony has now been released and provides helpful information on our policy-with-practice focus. See next post above.
Eileen Sullivan with the Associated Press is also filing real-time: Napolitano asserts strong federal flu response and a more extensive follow-on story under the same headline.