The Strategic National Stockpile Was Not Positioned To Respond Effectively to the COVID-19 Pandemic
Why OIG Did This Audit
HHS is the U.S. Government's principal agency for protecting the health of all Americans. Included in its role of protecting the health of Americans is the responsibility to respond to pandemics. The Strategic National Stockpile is part of HHS's Federal medical response infrastructure. Before COVID-19, the most recent pandemic occurred in 2009 and was caused by the H1N1 influenza virus. When COVID-19 first reached the U.S. in January 2020, some public health officials criticized Stockpile management for failing to act with urgency when responding to State requests for personal protective equipment (PPE).
Our objective was to determine whether the Stockpile, under the direction of the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR), was effective in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
How OIG Did This Audit
We interviewed officials from ASPR, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Stockpile, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, and the U.S. Marshals Service and assessed available documentation during our audit period, which covered January through June 2020.
What OIG Found
The Stockpile was operationally effective in distributing its limited inventory in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, based on established policies and procedures and consistent with its statutory obligations. However, the Stockpile's strategic effectiveness and its ability to meet COVID-19 demands was impacted by external and internal factors outside of its control.
Despite the challenges it faced, the Stockpile used established processes to distribute its limited supply of PPE and other items during the first 3 months of 2020. However, because of external and internal factors beyond its control, the Stockpile could not meet demand and was not equipped to handle the COVID-19 pandemic.
What OIG Recommends and ASPR Comments
We made several recommendations, including that ASPR: (1) mitigate the risk presented by relying on foreign supply chains and just-in-time inventory strategies when determining annual Stockpile purchases; (2) develop a strategic plan for the Stockpile that clearly defines the goals and objectives of the Stockpile and the Stockpile's roles and responsibilities for responding to emergency events, including pandemics; and (3) work to increase the Stockpile's annual funding to keep pace with the Stockpile's increased responsibilities. The full recommendations are in the report.
In response to our draft report, ASPR concurred with two of our recommendations but neither concurred nor non-concurred with the remainder of our recommendations. For these recommendations, ASPR instead discussed actions it has taken or plans to take to implement our recommendations. ASPR stated that it established the Office of the Industrial Base Management and Supply Chain to address the risk of relying on foreign supply chains and JIT inventory strategies. Specifically, the Stockpile continues efforts to clarify capabilities for State, local, territorial, and Tribal (SLTT) partners and develop and share resources with SLTT partners. ASPR continues efforts to fully integrate the Stockpile into ASPR, while relaunching the Public Health Emergency Medical Countermeasures Enterprise and continuing to work with Congress to advocate for additional funding. We commend ASPR on the actions it has taken or is taking to address our recommendations.
This report may be subject to section 5274 of the National Defense Authorization Act Fiscal Year 2023, 117 Pub. L. 263.