Iowa Republican freshman U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks campaigned to revamp the nation's stockpile of life-saving medicines and medical supplies to better prepare for a pandemic.
Now, the 24-year U.S. Army veteran and former Iowa public health director will sit on the U.S. House committee responsible for it.
Miller-Meeks, a physician, was assigned a seat this week on the House Homeland Security Committee, along with Veterans’ Affairs and Education and Labor committees.
In a statement, Miller-Meeks said her roles on both will ensure that the University of Iowa, the Iowa City VA Hospital, the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and its affiliated institutions have a stronger voice in Washington.
"These assignments directly highlight my strengths and experience as well as the priorities I expressed as I sought office: resolving this pandemic and preparing for future pandemics; ensuring the health of our citizens craving more normal human interactions and engagement at home, school, work, church and entertainment venues; safely returning people to work and students to the classroom; making sure that we have a workforce that is well trained and ready for the jobs of the future; and seeing that we have affordable, accessible healthcare," Miller-Meeks said in a statement. "I’m ready to get to work on behalf of Iowans."
The Homeland Security Committee has legislative jurisdiction over the National Strategic Stockpile.
While campaigning this past fall, Miller-Meeks frequently highlighted the stockpile’s value in preparing the country for future pandemics, vowing to draw on her military and public health experience to revamp it and bring manufacturing back from China to address limited domestic medical supplies — including personal protective equipment and pharmaceuticals.
In an August column, Miller-Meeks advocated that Congress quickly consider adopting new rules for federal PPE purchases that restricts the U.S. Department of Defense from purchasing certain products from foreign sources to create "a stable demand for U.S.-made PPE that will incentivize investment in domestic PPE manufacturing."
"COVID-19 has shown us that personal protective equipment and pharmaceutical manufacturing, especially of antibiotics, must be brought back to the U.S. and our supply chain diversified form sole reliance on China," Miller-Meeks wrote. "We should address both state and national strategic stockpiles and compensate private firms to store necessary PPE for six months and then re-introduce it back in the supply chain," to prevent expiration, mold and degradation.
Additionally, Miller-Meeks said testing reagents should be included in the national stockpile and allocated to state hygienic, private and hospital labs for broader-based, decentralized testing — "allowing for quicker isolation and treatment of outbreaks."
The Biden administration has taken steps to increase production of masks, gowns, respirators, vaccine and testing supplies, and other equipment. Last week, President Joe Biden signed executive orders authorizing the use of the Defense Production Act to accelerate manufacturing and secure supplies necessary for health workers responding to the pandemic. The executive orders direct federal agencies to devise a strategy to restructure and resupply the stockpile after being criticized last spring over a lack of adequate supplies.
The stockpile was initially intended to hold supplies needed in the event of a potential chemical, biological or radiological terrorist attack, but has evolved over time.
The Trump administration in April changed the mission statement on the stockpile’s website, putting forward a narrower role of the federal repository of life-saving drugs and medical equipment to "supplement state and local supplies during public health emergencies." And that it is meant to be a "short-term stopgap buffer," not a commitment to ensure supplies get quickly to those who need them most during an emergency.
"It will be a key priority of the committee to ensure that DHS is able to effectively respond to multiple ongoing incidents with proper resourcing and clarity of mandate, particularly in the midst of the current COVID-19 pandemic," U.S. Rep. John Katko, R-New York, ranking member of the House Homeland security committee, said in a statement. "As a doctor, lieutenant colonel, and public health official, Mariannette will be critical in the committee’s work to strengthen pandemic preparedness and protect the supply chain of the national strategic stockpile."
Miller-Meeks was provisionally sworn in as a new member of Congress early this month, and has called on the U.S. House to dismiss Democrat Rita Hart’s petition challenging the outcome in the contested race for southeast Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District.