Any investigation of the pandemic would necessarily be vast and complex, encompassing topics such as better detection of new pathogens, improvements to the public health system’s antiquated data collection apparatus, supply chain vulnerabilities, the harmful effect of lockdowns on many schoolchildren, the spread of misinformation and a lack of public trust in agencies like the C.D.C.
Members of Congress have tried to examine the crisis. On Friday, the House subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis released its final report, which was sharply critical of the Trump administration. On Thursday, Democrats on the Senate homeland security committee issued a study of the pandemic’s early months. In October, Republicans on the Senate health committee released an examination of the pandemic’s origins that suggested it was the result of a lab leak — a view most scientists disagree with.
But those inquiries are partisan. The bill to create the independent commission would establish a 12-member expert panel of “highly qualified citizens” appointed by congressional leaders from both parties. Like the Sept. 11 panel, it would have subpoena power and hold public hearings. It would be charged with examining the origins of the pandemic as well as the response by the Trump and Biden administrations.
“There’s no substitute for showing the vision that we showed in the early 2000s at creating an architecture that fixes things that we got wrong then, that addresses things that we didn’t think of then that we’ve learned, having gone through it,” said Senator Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, the health committee’s top Republican, who is sponsoring the measure with Ms. Murray.
Some experts see a broad-based examination of the pandemic as too daunting. And even if a commission were established, it might have difficulty overcoming the intense partisanship surrounding Covid-19. The nation was so deeply divided after Sept. 11 that “partisan pressures almost tore apart our commission,” said Philip D. Zelikow, a University of Virginia historian and former government official who was the executive director of the Sept. 11 panel. The problem is even worse today, he said.
Mr. Zelikow now leads the Covid Commission Planning Group, a privately funded effort involving about three dozen independent experts who have spent the better part of the past two years conducting research to lay the groundwork for a national inquiry. The group, which has held several hundred interviews, grew tired of waiting for Congress and plans to publish its findings in a book this spring, Mr. Zelikow said. He declined to discuss details.
Infectious disease experts predict that pandemics will occur with increasing frequency, fueled by global travel, climate change and humans moving into closer proximity with animals. Biodefense experts say that pandemics are every bit as big a threat to national security as terrorist attacks. But the public may not see it that way.