In a wide-ranging report, the GAO told the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Defense (DoD) how to better manage coronavirus-related shortages and boost the supply chain as the pandemic continues unabated, hurricanes continue to slam the southeast and Gulf Coast and flu season looms nationwide.
The GAO acknowledged these departments’ efforts to manage medical supplies needed during the pandemic and made 16 recommendations, including:
- Put HHS in charge of supply chain management with support from FEMA and other federal agencies to sustain and stabilize the medical device and PPE supply chain.
- Have HHS and FEMA further develop and publicize specific actions they will take to help mitigate supply chain shortages for the remainder of the pandemic.
- Have HHS and FEMA work with relevant stakeholders to devise interim solutions, such as systems and guidance and dissemination of best practices, to help states enhance their ability to track the status of supply requests and plan for supply needs for the remainder of the pandemic.
HHS and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) objected to GAO’s initial draft recommendations, the accounting office said, noting that it had made revisions based on their comments. One such recommendation was for a vaccine distribution plan, which HHS released September 16. GAO said it would review that plan.
“GAO maintains that implementation of its modified recommendations is both warranted and prudent,” the office added in its report. “These actions could contribute to ensuring a more effective response by helping to mitigate challenges with the stability of the medical supply chain and the ability of nonfederal partners to track, plan and budget for ongoing medical supply needs.”
The government auditors praised HHS for its work to implement about 81% of the GAO’s 434 prior recommendations regarding cybersecurity weaknesses at its component agencies. HHS agreed to complete that work, according to GAO, which noted that cyberattacks on the healthcare system, including HHS, have increased during the pandemic.