Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, has proposed establishing a new health data agency to improve access to impartial and objective public health data, with the payoff of bolstering infectious disease intelligence and preparedness.

In announcing the proposal, the senator did not say whether he plans to offer legislation to create the new agency.

Sen. Romney envisions the proposed Center for Public Health Data (CPHD) as a modern data agency, focused exclusively on aggregating comprehensive and de-identified public health data.

The agency would be structured as an independent data subagency inside the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and led by a Chief Data Engineer. It would gather public health data from diverse sources, including local, state, and Federal public health units; state health data utilities and exchanges; hospital systems; public and commercial laboratories; and academic and research institutions.

Currently, that data exists in electronic forms across laboratories, clinics, and hospitals, but it’s incomplete and fragmented across HHS, and is not shared quickly enough to drive decision-making, the senator’s office said.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen how the United States public health data reporting has failed to deliver critical and comprehensive information to the American people [to] respond to the pandemic. We had to stand up a brand new entity in short-order to respond, which was not a sustainable model and will not leave us prepared for the future,” Sen. Romney said in a press release.

“We have again seen the shortcomings as monkeypox has started to spread around the country,” he said. “These failures show the need for reliable, real-time data during days of blue-skies so we can better prepare for and potentially prevent major outbreaks.”

The proposed CPHD would serve as an open and transparent repository of information providing unbiased data in real-time. This data also would help paint a clearer picture of the state of public health and disease spread and help policymakers develop and implement informed and proactive policy solutions.

Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb tweeted in response to Sen. Romney’s proposal that it would create an institution charged with collecting, analyzing, and sharing health data needed to respond to outbreaks.

“[It] recognizes the nagging gaps that plagued COVID, monkeypox … This proposal is a serious effort to create the infrastructure we need to better collect and share data with local officials in a way that still protects privacy and security,” Gottlieb wrote.

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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk State and Local Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.