A Shift in Agenda: A Dozen Policy Sectors to Watch Post-Coronavirus

Charles Cooper

Policymakers will shift their own agenda to better align with the myriad of issues that have emerged since the pandemic began.

It is hard to imagine any aspect of our society that will not make massive long-term adjustments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The health and economic impacts alone will be a forcing mechanism for industries, non-profits, individuals, and governments to think through what a post-coronavirus world looks like in a landscape that will be forever changed. Not surprisingly, policymakers will shift their own agenda to better align with the myriad of issues that have emerged since the pandemic began. Below are twelve policy sectors that Congress will pivot to in response to the COVID-19 pandemic:

Privacy: Prior to the pandemic, the House and Senate had started a bipartisan process to develop consumer data privacy legislation. As the complexities of the issue proved to be slow and difficult, privacy policy became less promising and was ultimately sidelined for other policy issues that had gained further traction. The last two months, however, have been a strong reminder for policymakers on why the privacy debate should re-emerge towards the top of the congressional agenda. From video conferencing to contact tracing, privacy has again been elevated to a top-tier issue and the debate will likely be re-energized when Congress returns to regular order.

Cyber Security: As operations have adjusted since the COVID-19 pandemic began, it has become increasingly clear that a focus on cyber security is vital. Closing vulnerabilities in government, healthcare, and private industry is always important, but maybe even more urgent during such a significant shift in operations.

Healthcare: There are few areas in healthcare that have not undergone significant changes in the past few months, from telemedicine and hospital capacity to Medicare reimbursement and vaccine approval. Of course, many of those changes were taken as temporary measures and will need to be revisited by policymakers once the pandemic is over. Without question, healthcare is a top tier issue that will receive a lot of attention going forward.

Economic Recovery: To this point, Congress has largely focused on economic relief, responding to the near-term needs of hospitals, workers, governments, and businesses to respond to the ongoing pandemic. At some point, Congress will turn to economic recovery to not only provide short-term protections for businesses, but also long-term economic stimulus. This could include infrastructure, tax policy, or a combination of both.

Supply Chain: The pandemic has exposed several impactful issues that had little focus beforehand; vulnerabilities within our supply chain are certainly towards the top of that list. From medical supplies to toilet paper, supply chain issues have quickly transformed from an unknown to a central policy priority, and one that impacts virtually every industry. There are several directions that the White House and Congress can take this issue, but a focus on the strategic reserve and a larger coordinating function between government and industry will certainly make its way on the agenda.

China: The U.S.-China relationship has been a rollercoaster for the last several years, especially around the 301 tariffs and the on-again, off-again negotiations along the way. Questions around China’s transparency and role in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic have gained traction and concern in the White House and among policymakers on both sides of the political aisle. In this case, concerns will likely quickly become policy proposals and the growing support among policymakers may eventually push pieces of those proposals over the finish line or validate action by the President.

Transportation: With the backdrop of a transportation authorization bill that expires at the end of September and communities that have largely forgone work commutes, the dynamics around surface transportation have shifted significantly.  Priorities at the local level have, for example, opened new opportunities for active transportation (biking and walking) in response to the pandemic. With months of changes in transportation norms, a new discussion around transportation networks, priorities, and funding could be on the horizon.

Education: The pandemic has clearly disrupted education at all levels, especially with a combination of virtual learning and questions around what schools and universities will do in the fall.  Schools are facing significant financial challenges across the board and virtual learning has come with some additional complications.  Policymakers will need to aggressively approach these issues and consider how to best shift policies to bolster distance learning and address the financial realities educational institutions at all levels are experiencing.

Government Operations: In the rush to move federal agencies to teleworking in the early stages of the pandemic, it quickly became clear that all levels of government need to revisit their operational plans to ensure continuity of government going forward should similar disruptions occur. This includes both internal policies as well as the technological needs that come with remote government operations. The House has already moved to institute proxy voting; other reforms in the legislative branch are possible, but it is likely that Congress will consider what funding and new policy is needed to prepare for large government shifts to remote work in the future.

Public Lands and Outdoor Recreation: As most of the country has been at home for long periods of times during the pandemic, broad interest in outdoor recreation and public lands has dramatically escalated. Congress and land management agencies will need to consider how to respond to growing demand, especially when social distancing creates an additional challenge in some areas during peak season. Issues like maintenance backlog (currently billions of dollars in projects that need to be done) will need to be resolved quickly through new funding. A near-term focus on outdoor recreation will build on the last couple years of bipartisan leadership in this policy space.

Election Security and Voting: Several states that were forced to make last minute adjustments to primary elections highlighted the vulnerability in voting during a pandemic. Some in Congress have already proposed mail-in ballots for the general election.  Regardless, the pandemic has shifted the way in which voters participate and it is likely that Congress works to identify solutions to protect elections and voters during upcoming and future elections that may be unexpectedly for various reasons.

Pandemic Infrastructure: Without question, policymakers will reassess pandemic-specific government infrastructure to better prepare in the future. Its likely that a more centralized operation along with more robust funding for the future will be towards the top of that list. While the direction of that debate is unknown, the likelihood of that debate is very strong. Congress will want to create the infrastructure to better position response in the future.

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