New GAO Report Identifies Early Missteps in Pandemic Response, Reinforces Need for Continued Federal Action
Washington, D.C. (July 19, 2021) — Today, Rep. James E. Clyburn, Chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, issued the following statement in response to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) regarding the nation’s response to and recovery from the coronavirus pandemic:
“Today’s GAO report underscores the great progress that has been made by the Biden-Harris Administration, but also confirms that we must not lose sight of the work that remains to be done to save lives and fully recover from the pandemic. GAO’s recommendations regarding coronavirus vaccinations, enhanced testing, improvements to our Strategic National Stockpile, financial relief, and protections for American workers are critical. At this juncture, we must continue to do what is necessary to get all Americans vaccinated and support a strong, sustainable, and inclusive recovery.”
GAO’s new report states that the “development and administration of multiple vaccines across the nation” has been a critical factor in reducing the numbers of coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in recent months. GAO also recognizes the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts to make vaccines more accessible, including President Biden’s announcement on May 4, 2021, directing pharmacies to offer walk-in appointments, and redirecting resources “to support additional smaller vaccination sites and more mobile clinics.” To date, nearly 338 million vaccine doses have been administered in the United States.
GAO urges the federal government to “remain vigilant and agile to address new COVID-19 variants and potential unexpected events or unintended consequences of recovery and response efforts while concurrently preparing for future public health emergencies.” Today’s GAO report outlines several additional key considerations and recommendations moving forward, including:
CDC Has Opportunities to Enhance Testing Capacity to Address Future Public Health Emergencies
- GAO’s new report confirms that the flawed coronavirus test kits developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) under the Trump Administration “limited testing capacity in the U.S. during the critical early weeks of the pandemic, when the nation needed to understand the spread of the novel virus.” While CDC has improved its process for developing diagnostic tests, GAO recommended that the agency strengthen its preparedness and ability to manage surges in laboratory testing. For example, GAO noted that CDC could establish advance contracts with test kit manufacturers, which would facilitate the rapid manufacturing and deployment of test kits during a future public health emergency.
The Trump Administration Failed to Ensure Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) Readiness
- GAO found that the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) failed to conduct annual reviews of the SNS’s multibillion-dollar inventory from 2017 through 2019 and to provide recommendations about the procurement of drugs, vaccines, supplies, and other critical materials used in public health emergencies. GAO determined that ASPR left “Congress and key stakeholders without assurance that steps taken are advancing national preparedness for natural, accidental, and intentional threats.”
The Trump Administration’s Inadequate Monitoring of Early Medical Supply Shipments Risked Taxpayer Dollars
- In response to early supply shortages, ASPR purchased personal protective equipment and medical supplies that were distributed from vendors directly to state, local, territorial, and tribal governments. However, GAO found that ASPR lacked written policies and procedures documenting how it tracked the direct shipment and receipt of supplies before issuing payments, which “increased [the] risk that ASPR may make improper payments to vendors for incorrect supplies or quantities or for supplies that the intended recipients did not receive.” GAO recommended that ASPR update its policies and procedures to reduce the risk that improper payments may be made to vendors and taxpayer funds wasted.
Treasury and IRS Must Continue to Work To Disburse Economic Impact Payments to All Eligible Americans
- The Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) continue to face challenges in disbursing economic impact payments to members of “hard-to-reach groups such as those experiencing homelessness.” GAO recommended that IRS and Treasury release interim findings regarding the effectiveness of prior notifications to nonfilers to inform their ongoing efforts to reach those groups.
Enforcing Paid Leave Requirements Will Protect Vulnerable Workers
- GAO found that the Department of Labor should continue to expand its outreach to workers who may be eligible to file complaints under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act against employers who “discharged, disciplined, or discriminated against any employee” taking emergency paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave during the height of the pandemic. GAO also recommended that the Department engage in a “comprehensive and timely effort . . . to identify and document lessons learned from [the Department’s] administration and enforcement of COVID-19-related paid leave.”