On Thursday, a government watchdog’s report claimed that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is at “high risk” of failing to sufficiently respond to the next major public health crisis after the COVID-19 pandemic.
As reported by CNN, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report described HHS as “vulnerable to abuse, mismanagement, fraud, or waste, or need[ing] an overall transformation,” particularly with regard to its leadership and its coordination of public health emergencies. Among the agencies that fall under the broad overview of HHS are the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Office of the Surgeon General, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The GAO report specifically identified five “persistent deficiencies” within the department, with the department’s response to COVID-19 apparently confirming many “longstanding concerns.”
“For more than a decade,” the report declares, “we’ve found persistent deficiencies in HHS’s leadership role preparing for and responding to public health emergencies, including COVID-19 and other infectious diseases — such as the H1N1 influenza pandemic, Zika, and Ebola — and extreme weather events, such as hurricanes.”
The department, according to the report, has also struggled with communication, delegating clear responsibilities for certain roles, collecting and analyzing data, failing to properly coordinate with key partners, and failing to be transparent and accountable in its shortcomings.
The GAO says that since 2007, HHS has taken steps to follow 115 different recommendations for improving the department’s performance, but has failed to follow through on 72 other suggestions.
The purpose of the GAO’s designation of HHS as “high risk,” the report said, was “to help ensure the executive branch and Congress pay sustained attention in order to make additional progress in implementing GAO’s open recommendations and strengthen HHS’s leadership and coordination role for future public health emergencies.”
“Waiting to address the deficiencies we have identified in HHS’s leadership and coordination of public health emergencies is not an option,” the report continued, “as it is not possible to know precisely when the next threat will occur; only that it will come.”