DANIEL VAUGHAN: Congress should investigate the federal COVID-19 response

Congress wastes time on a lot of committees and commissions. One of the most prominent commissions in Congress is destined for irrelevancy. But sometimes, congressional investigations are needed and warranted.

The COVID-19 pandemic is one of those occasions where Congress should run a comprehensive inquiry into how the United States responded, and what ways we can and should improve at both the federal and state in future pandemics.

A future pandemic is the critical part; we have to assume that with bad actors like China out there, with poor controls on their research laboratories and scientific community in general, a future pandemic is a given.

During the George W. Bush administration, we were very fortunate that the SARS epidemic, which originated in a Chinese laboratory and was a precursor to COVID-19, was not worse.

We were also lucky that Bill Clinton and George W. Bush took pandemic preparation seriously, ensuring the nation was ready for the dreaded swine flu pandemic during the Obama administration. 

What we need to identify, and why Congress needs to be involved, is what laws or agency regulations have prevented the United States from responding better to a global pandemic.

Bureaucrats and red tape should never stand in the way of saving lives and ensuring a country can run more smoothly. On these marks, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have failed spectacularly — failing to do the one thing they’re tasked with accomplishing.

The most recent failure, which connects to the very first disaster from the CDC and FDA, is the lack of tests available in the United States. FDA regulations have prevented private companies from flooding U.S. markets with cheap tests, available anywhere you shop.

Americans have gotten stuck with the much slower PCR tests. As economist Scott Lincicome notes, Americans are stuck with a paltry selection:

The FDA didn’t first issue an emergency approval for an over-the-counter, at-home rapid test until mid-December 2020—and that Australian-made Ellume test was available only in extremely limited quantities (and required a smartphone app to use!). Since then, the FDA has approved only five more, bringing the grand total of approved at-home antigen tests in the United States to a whopping six.

Remember, the pandemic started back in January 2020, and the FDA pipeline has blocked the American economy from producing millions of dirt-cheap tests that workBy way of comparison, Germany’s health agencies have approved more than 60 different rapid at-home tests for its citizens to use, making testing an incredibly cheap and widespread task to accomplish.

Instead, in the United States, we’ve dealt with shortages and rationing over tests that are easy to find anywhere in Europe. The people standing in the way are the bureaucrats in the FDA. Congress should drag every decision-maker in the FDA before them for questioning.

People should get fired for not pushing to remove these senseless regulations.

The steps for the federal government to respond to a rapidly changing pandemic should be streamlined and adjusted to reflect the experiences of government bureaucrats preventing solutions and cures from reaching the American people. None of the delays that the bureaucrats have introduced have protected or helped American citizens.

Some political differences are playing into the response. Donald Trump was far more interested in a rapid response than Joe Biden. Trump engaged “Operation Warp Speed” to speed up vaccination development, wildly overachieving what was thought possible in the process. Biden has done little to nothing to speed up bureaucratic decision-making.

In April of 2020, The New York Times warned that vaccine development for COVID-19 could take as long as ten years. Operation Warp Speed accomplished the same task while fulfilling all safety parameters in ten to eleven months.

According to a GAO report of the process, Operation Warp Speed (OWS) was a smashing success:

Each of the OWS vaccine companies we talked to told us that the primary difference between COVID-19 vaccine development and vaccine development in a non-pandemic environment was the compressed timelines under which they were working. In addition, to speed up the availability of the vaccines, companies initiated large-scale manufacturing while collecting data on clinical trial participants.

Trump’s OWS program not only found vaccine candidates — but had those candidates ready to go with full-blown manufacturing plans in place the moment a successful candidate was found. Government contracts were prepared, and the only issue at that point was getting vaccines into arms as quickly as possible.

We need that kind of OWS thinking across the board.

On the one hand, we found miraculous cures for a dangerous disease. But on the other hand, bureaucrats are preventing us from swamping the market with tests to find the virus quickly. These are government failures, and the agencies performing these tasks must be forced to answer.

Laws need to change, pandemic response plans altered, and Congress needs to create guidelines to prevent some of the gross overreaches of power witnessed from both states and the federal government during this time. Pandemics are not new to the human experience.

Still, you’d have never guessed that from how the United States federal government handled this situation.

Fortunately, American ingenuity saved the day, as it so often does. In the future, we shouldn’t have government bureaucrats preventing American creativity and technology from saving the day faster. A congressional investigation would be an excellent way to find those answers and cut the red tape for future generations.