GAO reports that sustained federal action is crucial as pandemic enters its second year

April 5, 2021

The U.S. Government and Accountability Office (GAO) released its 6th comprehensive report on the federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic, in which it identified multiple ways agencies can improve response efforts. 

For example, GAO recommends improvements in federal data to provide a clear picture of whether COVID-19 vaccines are being distributed equitably to communities of color, which are disproportionately affected by the virus. The agency also recommended that federal agencies establish controls to combat potential fraud. 

More than a year after the U.S. declared COVID-19 a public health emergency, the pandemic continues to result in catastrophic loss of life and substantial damage to the global economy, stability, and security. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics, about 520,000 more deaths occurred from all causes (COVID-19 and other causes) than would be normally expected from February 2020 through mid-February 2021, highlighting the effect of the pandemic on U.S. mortality (see figure). The pandemic also continues to cause economic challenges, particularly for the labor market. As of February 2021, there were about 10 million unemployed individuals, compared to nearly 5.8 million at the beginning of 2020. 

In the past year, GAO has made 44 recommendations for agency actions, six of which have been implemented. Since taking office, the new administration has taken some action consistent with GAO’s recommendations, such as issuing the National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness and issuing executive orders calling for the development of a pandemic supply chain resilience strategy and providing emergency economic relief. GAO will continue to monitor the administration’s actions toward addressing GAO’s recommendations in future reporting. 

In this report GAO is making 28 new recommendations in the areas of public health, the economy, and program integrity. Implementing these 28 recommendations, as well as 38 of GAO’s 44 prior recommendations that have not been fully implemented from CARES Act reports issued since June 2020, would improve the ongoing federal response to COVID-19. 

GAO’s new recommendations include: 

• Hospital and Pharmacy Perspectives on COVID-19 Vaccine Administration and Medical Supply Availability

ֽ• Emergency use authorizations (EUA)—which allow for the temporary use of unapproved medical products—have been instrumental in increasing needed supply of certain devices, such as PPE, during the COVID-19 pandemic response (see figure).

GAO previously reported that communities of color have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

• Collecting detailed information on vaccinations for nursing home populations is important for tracking and transparency, particularly because nursing homes have been an epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic and HHS has recommended priority vaccinations for this group. 

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), many veterans enrolled in VA’s health care system are at a higher risk of infection or severe disease from COVID-19 due to their age or underlying health conditions. GAO identified several areas where VA can improve its vaccination efforts: 

·        VA does not have metrics related to staff and veterans who do not show (no-shows) for their vaccination appointments. Without data on no-shows, VA may be at risk for not being able to determine the extent to which staff and veterans are not showing up for appointments for their second vaccinations and may miss opportunities to better target outreach to individuals not showing up for appointments.

·         VA lacks targets for when it will move from one vaccination phase to another or within one phase for when the agency will move from one group of veterans to another, making it difficult for the department to assess progress.

·         VA is utilizing a phased vaccine rollout; however, VA’s current metrics do not capture vaccine data by phases. As a result, VA is not able to determine which facilities may be at an earlier phase than others and direct resources or assistance to those facilities. 

As of March 15, 2021, the U.S. had over 29 million reported cases of COVID-19 and more than 523,000 reported deaths, according to CDC. The country also continues to experience serious economic repercussions. 

Five relief laws, including the CARES Act, were enacted as of January 31, 2021, to provide appropriations to address the public health and economic threats posed by COVID-19. As of January 31, 2021, of the $3.1 trillion appropriated by these five laws for COVID-19 relief, the federal government had obligated a total of $2.2 trillion and expended $1.9 trillion, as reported by federal agencies. 

Most recently, in March 2021, a sixth relief law, the American Rescue Plan of 2021, was enacted and provides additional federal assistance for the ongoing response and recovery. 

The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to report on its ongoing monitoring and oversight efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This report examines the federal government’s continued efforts to respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

GAO has the report

More COVID-19 coverage HERE.