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Opening Statement of Ranking Member Jay Obernolte as Prepared for Delivery at Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee Hearing on COVID-19 Variants

May 12, 2021
Opening Statement

Ranking Member Obernolte's Opening Statement as prepared for delivery is as follows:

"Thank you, Chairman Foster, for holding today’s important and timely hearing. I would also like to thank our expert witnesses for their participation today. 

I look forward to learning more about the important contributions the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science’s National Laboratories are making to combat the COVID-19 virus, and what role they can play moving forward to combat other infectious diseases. Thank you, Dr. Streiffer for being here today and for all the important work you do at Argonne National Laboratory.

Our nation’s research enterprise has demonstrated it has the expertise, resources, and talent to fight this pandemic. We have supercomputers, advanced manufacturing techniques, and even advanced photon sources being used to fight COVID-19.  

The DOE National Labs have a history of using technical solutions to respond to national and international emergencies, and when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the labs were prepared, ready, and willing to serve on the front lines. DOE received $99.5M in the CARES Act to fund research at the National Labs to better understand COVID-19. This funding has since been fully expended.

At the start of the pandemic, DOE pivoted and launched the National Virtual Biotechnical Laboratory (NVBL) to mobilize the resources of the Department of Energy’s 17 National Labs to engage in critical COVID-19 research. Projects within NVBL are focused on molecular design for medical therapeutics, development and evaluation of COVID-19 testing, epidemiological and transpiration modeling, and advanced manufacturing. 

I would also like to highlight that decades of investment in basic scientific research involving the National Labs contributed to the unprecedented speed COVID-19 vaccines were developed and distributed. These investments have been truly lifesaving. 

The accomplishments made possible through the NVBL demonstrate the power of the U.S. innovation ecosystem, when you have DOE National labs, universities, and companies all working together to address a national and societal challenge.

As the original COVID-19 virus and new variants continue to spread across the globe, it is imperative that the United States continues to make critical investments in basic research for the health and safety of our nation. To date, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have identified five COVID-19 Variants of Concern (VOCs) in the United States. Researchers are paying close attention to these VOCs as according to the CDC, they appear to spread more easily and quickly than other identified Variants of Interest (VOIs).

There remains a lot of information public health officials and researchers do not yet know about COVID-19 variants, and further studies are needed. For example, researchers still need to learn how easily emerging COVID-19 variants spread, if they cause milder or more severe illness, if they are detected by currently available viral tests, if they respond to medications currently being used to treat COVID-19, and whether existing authorized vaccines protect people from them. The DOE National Labs can build upon previous COVID-19 research work and get ahead in the race against COVID-19 mutations. The National Labs have existing infrastructure, resources, and experts ready to deploy, and can continue to play a leading role in addressing key concerns and challenges to confront the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

Before I close, I would like to highlight H.R. 2153, the Securing American Leadership in Science and Technology Act (SALSTA), which was introduced by Full Committee Ranking Member Lucas in March, and which I am an original cosponsor of. This legislation includes an authorization for a DOE emerging infectious disease research program and high-performance computing research consortium.

I hope that today’s hearing will continue an important dialogue on the role of Federal science agencies in supporting R&D to combat the COVID-19 virus and propose new and innovative solutions for infectious disease responses in the future.

Thank you, and I yield back."

 

Watch the Ranking Member's opening statement as delivered here:

117th Congress