GAO has concerns about the Health and Human Services Department's readiness for another emergency.

GAO has concerns about the Health and Human Services Department's readiness for another emergency. Catherine McQueen / Getty Images

Coronavirus Roundup: A Watchdog Raises More Concerns With the Strategic National Stockpile

There’s a lot to keep track of. Here’s a list of this week’s news updates and stories you may have missed.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention signed off Wednesday on allowing Novavax’s boosters for adults, including for those who received a different brand for their primary dose, following the Food and Drug Administration's authorization of it. 

“This action gives people ages 18 years and older the option to receive a Novavax monovalent booster instead of an updated (bivalent) Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna booster if they have completed primary series vaccination, but have not previously received a COVID-19 booster—and if they cannot or will not receive mRNA vaccines,” said a statement from the CDC. Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed. 

One of the top management challenges for the Treasury Department for fiscal 2023 once again is related to implementation of COVID relief packages, as the department is responsible for distributing $655 billion to more than 35,000 recipients with limited time and staffing, Treasury’s watchdog said in a new memo. “The department is challenged with filling and transitioning key leadership positions for pandemic programs not fully established, quickly establishing internal controls, guidance and methodologies for monitoring, reporting and oversight of funds disbursed, data collection, quality and reliability, and lack of funding to sustain operations,” said the memo. “In addition, Treasury must carry the administrative and monitoring responsibilities in its new role resolving Single Audit findings and potentially serving as cognizant agency for a significant number of entities under the Office of Management and Budget’s Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles, and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards.” 

In a similar report the Commerce inspector general said: “One of the challenges the [Commerce] Department faces in ensuring adequate oversight of financial assistance is obtaining adequate staff to handle the demand of performing oversight of pandemic relief funds.” Additionally, employees began to return to offices in April, but some continue to work in either a work or hybrid environment, so in these situations “the department must maintain its capability to administer and manage contract and grant files electronically for multiple contractors and grantees,” said the watchdog. “Our ongoing and prior audit work continues to identify significant vulnerabilities in how the department manages contract and grant file documentation, which could expose the department to substantial financial losses.”

The Government Accountability Office has concerns about the Health and Human Services Department’s readiness for further public health emergencies due to recent challenges with the strategic national stockpile, which has been a major focus in the COVID and monkeypox responses. “For example, statutorily required [stockpile] reviews had not been completed for three years, and the 2020 and 2021 reviews, which will inform [stockpile] inventory decisions for fiscal years 2023 and 2024, did not address most of the statutory requirements that were enacted by the [Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness and Advancing Innovation Act] in 2019,” said GAO’s report released on Monday. Another issue is that HHS’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response’s “main document for presenting information about the [stockpile]—the [stockpile] review—lacks critical risk information.” HHS agreed with GAO’s three recommendations. 

The Office of the Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery released on Monday its audit plan for fiscal 2023. “This audit plan is a living document, and the Office of Audits will adjust as priorities change,” wrote Theodore Stehney, assistant IG for auditing, in the foreword. “We would also like to note that to conduct the audits on our plan, we need coordination from Treasury officials and access to data, documentation, and program administrators to make sufficient progress to meet our anticipated timelines. Resources and timelines will be adjusted as needed.”

Trump administration officials “exploited” the CDC’s Title 42 authority to turn away migrants at the southern border to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, according to a new report from the majority staff on the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis. That is one of the allegations in the report on how Trump officials tried to manipulate and control the CDC early on during the pandemic. “Dr. Martin Cetron, Director of CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, told the Select Subcommittee that the Title 42 order issued on March 20, 2020, ‘was not drafted by me or my team,’ but was instead ‘handed to us’––and that he recalled participating on calls about the order during which White House Senior Advisor Stephen Miller ‘was speaking,’” said the report released on Monday. “According to a press report, Dr. Cetron told a CDC colleague in March 2020 after receiving the proposed Title 42 order: ‘I will not be a part of this. It’s just morally wrong to use a public authority that has never, ever, ever been used this way. It’s to keep Hispanics out of the country. And it’s wrong.’ ” He confirmed that statement to the subcommittee. 

Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., House Republican whip and ranking member of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, blasted the report, saying this is “a sham panel” that was “all about creating yet another forum to continue their partisan vendetta of attacking President Trump.” He released a memo outlining the Republicans’ findings over the past two years and ways they think Democrats have not held the Biden administration accountable. 

The General Services Administration awarded a multi-year contract to the American Institutes for Research to review the American Rescue Plan’s ability to achieve equity in the reach of its programs. The Office of Evaluation Sciences, an interdisciplinary team based at GSA, will support the contract along with OMB’s Evidence Team, the APR Implementation Team and other agency partners. 

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