GAO: COVID-19: Pandemic Lessons Highlight Need for Public Health Situational Awareness Network

Fast Facts

Since 2006, federal laws have required the Department of Health and Human Services to develop a real-time electronic network that would improve the nation’s situational awareness during a public health emergency. This network was meant to be used to facilitate early detection of and rapid response to potentially catastrophic infectious disease outbreaks—such as COVID-19.

However, this network is still not operational 15 years later.

We recommended that HHS prioritize the development of this network—to include designating a lead office for implementing it and clearly defining roles and responsibilities…

Recommendations

GAO is making 12 recommendations to HHS to prioritize the development of the public health situational awareness and biosurveillance network. Among these recommendations are that HHS should:

  • designate a lead operational division for implementation of statutory requirements and clearly define its roles and responsibilities;
  • identify the office responsible for overseeing the completion of the activities performed by the lead operational division and clearly define its roles and responsibilities;
  • commit to a deadline for finalizing the work plan to implement the 2019 act requirements and ensure that the work plan is fully implemented;
  • identify and document information-sharing challenges and lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • share the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic with relevant stakeholders, such as state, territorial, and local public health officials; and
  • incorporate lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic into plans for implementing the situational awareness and biosurveillance network.

HHS concurred with 10 of the 12 recommendations. The department stated that the remaining two were under review. The two under review related to identifying the office responsible for overseeing the completion of the activities performed by the lead operational division and identifying and documenting information-sharing challenges and lessons learned from COVID-19…

Access the 73-page report here.

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