Agencies need better plans to protect feds in a flu pandemic, GAO says

The flu virus under a powerful microscope. The flu virus under a powerful microscope. CDC photo
Agencies must be more prepared to minimize the harm a pandemic flu outbreak could have on the federal workforce, a Government Accountability Office report said.
 
The GAO report revealed key deficiencies in information sharing among government agencies, which could obstruct a coordinated federal response to a possible outbreak. It also said many agencies had not clearly delineated workers with mission-critical jobs. GAO said more oversight is needed in this area to reduce the risk of exposure for federal workers and to ensure they do not come into the office during an outbreak when they could be telecommuting.
 
The auditors specifically called out problems in the Federal Aviation Administration’s plan to protect air traffic controllers, who could be exposed while on the job. The watchdog said in its report that although FAA had improved since the last report in June 2009, much more could be done.

“FAA has not yet found a viable way to address how onsite air traffic controllers, who work in close proximity to each other, could be separated during an influenza pandemic,” the report said.
 
Since 2008, the Homeland Security Council, part of the president’s executive office, has required agencies to prepare contingency plans in the case of an outbreak of a pandemic flu. These plans are required to address the essential operations of each agency and the employees responsible for them, and then lay out measures to protect federal workers in case they must report to duty. The GAO report inspected the progress that 24 departments and agencies had made in their contingency planning efforts.  

“There is limited oversight of agencies’ progress to protect their employees during a pandemic,” the report said.
 
Still, the auditors did note significant progress had been made since 2009, when GAO criticized government agencies for not having adequate plans for a pandemic flu. The 2009 report was released several months after the outbreak of H1N1 Swine Flu outbreak.

“In particular, almost all or most of the agencies, selected components, and their facilities have completed pandemic plans that address how they would protect employees that were associated with mission essential functions that could not be performed remotely,” the report added.

GAO concluded the report by saying the Homeland Security Department should provide additional guidance and oversight. Officials within DHS told auditors that they were not required to report these additional responsibilities.

“While agencies have reported in 2012 they have made significant progress in planning for protecting workers during an influenza pandemic, additional oversight targeted to those areas in which reported progress is uneven could help focus attention on those areas,” the report said.
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