GAO: More Must be Done to Counter Pandemic Flu

Four members of the U.S. Congress released a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on Sept. 10 that urged the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to develop testing, training and exercises for pandemic flu.

The report also states that more action is needed to define the federal government's role, promote interagency cooperation and develop a national strategy to deal with pandemic influenza. The bipartisan group of lawmakers called on the Bush administration to address the problems identified in the report.

The congressional members are Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA), Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH).

"It's alarming to learn that this far into the process, key federal leadership roles in a pandemic have not been adequately defined, much less tested through rigorous exercises and drills," said Waxman, who heads the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. "It is vital to resolve questions of turf, responsibility and performance in advance, rather than in the heat of, an actual pandemic."

"As this GAO report indicates, the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza falls short of being an effective strategy," said Rep. Thompson, chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security. "Before the pandemic hits, we still have the chance to clarify the strategy, and better identify the goals and objectives for everyone (not just the federal government). This will make the difference between some parts of the government being prepared, and the entire nation being ready."

The GAO report, "Influenza Pandemic: Further Efforts Are Needed to Ensure Clearer Federal Leadership Roles and An Effective National Strategy," noted that while the executive branch has taken an active approach to pandemic preparedness, there needs to be improved coordination between HHS and DHS regarding leadership roles and responsibilities during a pandemic crisis.

The complete GAO report is available online at http://www.oversight.house.gov.

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.

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