On Monday, July 19, the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a nearly 500-page report on the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and issued a series of recommendations designed to bring an end to the pandemic and strengthen national preparedness for future health emergencies.
The report emphasized the importance of redoubling vaccination campaign efforts as per-day vaccination rates continue to decline. As disparities continue to emerge in vaccination rates across demographic groups, the GAO urged the CDC and other health agencies to continue working to encourage vaccination in high-risk communities across the country.
Additionally, the report made recommendations to the CDC with regards to the agency’s ability to strengthen and secure manufacturing and deployment capacity of COVID-19 diagnostic tests. These recommendations focused on improved monitoring of CDC resources and establishing agreements with nongovernment test kit manufacturers in preparation for future disease outbreaks so that the CDC will be able to drive a more coordination, timely, and effective rollout of test kits in the event of future disease outbreaks.
One of the key recommendations was focused on relief funding for state and local agencies, especially health-related programs. The GAO recommended a swift issuance of single audit guidance for recipients of federal relief funds, which would make it easier for health departments receiving funds to effectively and efficiently complete audits of their spending.
Additionally, the report strongly recommended better communication from HHS about the planned use of remaining COVID-19 relief funds, including time frame estimates for spending and improved oversight. The HHS has agreed to clarify timelines and other important information regarding the dispersal of relief funds through specific grants to state and local agencies in its future reports.
The report also focused heavily on the issue of medical technology, in large part broken down into three categories: improved lab testing and sequencing capacity, expanded engagement with domestic medical supply manufacturers, and changes to the HHS policies and procedures regarding the Strategic National Stockpile. One of the most significant recommendations regarded the HHS’ management of the Public Health Emergency Medical Countermeasures Enterprise (PHEMCE). The GAO urged the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response to develop and document plans for restructuring the PHEMCE, with an emphasis on interagency partnerships, transparency, and expanded collaboration efforts to strengthen the Strategic National Stockpile.
The report also included multiple recommendations directed at the IRS with a focus on the 2021 Tax Filing season, urging improved communication, refund processing, and data reporting. The full report can be found here, and a more detailed list of the recommendations is available on the GAO website here.