A new Government Accountability Office report out Thursday highlights how unprepared the US government was to tackle coronavirus and deal with the corresponding economic crisis that required Congress to get trillions in federal stimulus dollars out the door.
The report — which is just the latest look at the US government’s response to the coronavirus — lays out how the US fell short on everything from testing to ensuring hospitals and states had adequate supplies.
It also looks closely at how agencies struggled to ensure billions in stimulus dollars got to American struggling with an economic crisis.
“Both the Congress and the administration have acted to mobilize resources quickly to help the nation respond to and recover from the pandemic. However, the negative effects of the pandemic on families, communities, and health care systems and on the long-term economic condition of millions of Americans and U.S. businesses are likely to persist into the future,” the report states.
Here are some key findings of the report:
On the nation’s stockpile: The report laid out that the Strategic National Stockpile was not equipped to handle the demand generated by states and localities in need of personal protective equipment, ventilators and other critical medical supplies.
According to officials from the Offices of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response who were interviewed by GAO “the Strategic National Stockpile did not have the capacity to provide states with supplies at the scale necessary to respond to a nationwide event such as the Covid-19 pandemic.”
On testing: The report also criticized the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on testing for compiling “incomplete and inconsistent” testing data that has hurt the government’s response — specifically, the report said, poor data “has made it more difficult to track and know the infection rate, mitigate the effect of infections, and inform decisions on reopening communities.” It said Department of Health and Human Services has directed improvements to reporting of tests to make the data more reliable, but notes those requirements do not take effect until August 1.
On the disbursement of stimulus payments: The report also laid out that an influx of trillions in stimulus spending strained agencies like state unemployment offices and the Small Business Administration, which had never doled out the volume of funding they were required to under the pandemic.
The report said that when it came to handling an influx of unemployment claims and ensuring that an additional $600 payment was paid out, many states lacked the adequate infrastructure or staff to respond to the escalating number of claims.
On the handling of small business loans: GAO also blasted the Small Business Administration for not providing them with detailed data on who received the loans, information GAO argued was essential to providing oversight.
“Congress has charged SBA with implementing the PPP and other provisions crucial to the nation’s economic recovery. However, SBA to date has failed to provide information critical to our review, including a detailed description of data on loans made,” GAO wrote.
On the preparedness of transportation agencies: of It also calls for Congress to require federal officials develop a preparedness plan for the aviation system. GAO has previously recommended the Transportation Department and other agencies do so, but it reports the agencies are at loggerheads over who is responsible.
GAO said the plan should “ensure safeguards are in place to limit the spread of communicable disease threats from abroad while at the same time minimizing any unnecessary interference with travel and trade.”
Read more about the report here.