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Less than half of watchdog’s pandemic recommendations addressed

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The investigative arm of Congress has made nearly 400 recommendations and brought 19 matters to the attention of Congress related to the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but less than half of those issues have been addressed.

The Government Accountability Office, an independent and nonpartisan agency, released a report Tuesday that found many of its recommendations have not been addressed.

The Government Accountability Office has regularly reported on the accountability and effectiveness of the federal government’s $4.7 trillion pandemic response since 2020.

The CARES Act included a provision for the Government Accountability Office to report regularly on the federal response to the pandemic. In its pandemic-related work, the Government Accountability Office has made 386 recommendations to 26 federal agencies and raised 19 matters for congressional consideration. Most of those have yet to be addressed.

Congress and federally agencies had fully or partially addressed 45% of the recommendations as of April 30, 2023.

“GAO has played a critical role in providing oversight of the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Comptroller General of the United States Gene Dodaro said in a statement. “While Congress and the Administration have made progress addressing many of GAO’s recommendations, it’s essential that they continue to do so to help better prepare for, respond to, and recover from future emergencies.”

Among the recommendations that have gone addressed is one that has been overdue for 16 years.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services failed to put in place a data system that it was, by statute, required to have in place by 2008.

“HHS had made little progress on implementing a nationwide public health situational awareness capability through an interoperable network of systems to help ensure timely and complete collection of public health data to aid a response. Under the existing process – which HHS has had to rely on during the COVID-19 pandemic – public health data are collected by thousands of different health departments and laboratories, as well as multiple federal agencies. Technological capabilities vary widely among these entities, which may use systems and software that are not interoperable and unable to exchange and share data,” according to an earlier report.

The Government Accountability Office said “HHS should continue progress toward establishing the public health situational awareness and biosurveillance network, which federal law over 16 years ago required HHS to establish.”

“Such a network could be used to provide vital information to manage a timely response in a future emergency,” according to a news release from the Government Accountability Office.

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