A bipartisan Senate bill aims to strengthen the United States’ preparedness for future pandemics by making it easier for Federal agencies to quickly hire employees during a public health emergency.

The Prepare for and Responded to Existing Viruses, Emerging New Threats, and Pandemics Act (PREVENT Pandemics Act), introduced by Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Richard Burr, R-N.C., would allow the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to bypass traditional hiring methods during a pandemic.

Each fiscal year, HHS would be able to hire 400 employees to address a critical need directly related to responding to a public health emergency, and 100 employees to address a severe shortage of candidates that impacts HHS’ ability to respond to the public health emergency.

The bill would also require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to report on hiring challenges at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

According to the bill text, the GAO report would assess “the policies, practices, processes, and programs of the Food and Drug Administration with respect to hiring, recruiting, and retention, and the impact of such policies, practices, processes, and programs on the agency’s ability to carry out its public health mission, including the agency’s ability to respond to the COVID–19 public health emergency.”

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions voted 20-2 on March 15 to advance the legislation.

“Time after time we have seen how our response to this pandemic could have, and should have, been better,” said Sen. Murray. “After all our families have been through, we owe it to everyone who has worked so hard to get us through this pandemic to take action so we are never in this situation again. I’m glad we are coming together and showing Americans there is bipartisan agreement we must learn from this crisis.”

“As we continue to evaluate the lessons learned from the pandemic, the central issue facing us today is how we can better anticipate the next threat we will face, and innovate quickly enough to rise to the challenge,” said Sen. Burr. “This bipartisan legislation represents a milestone in our efforts to fill current gaps and build on the successes in our pandemic response.”

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is MeriTalk's Assistant Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.