U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) today released a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report entitled, Influenza Pandemic: Agencies Report Progress in Plans to Protect Federal Workers but Oversight Could be Improved (GAO-12-748). GAO conducted a follow-up review of its 2009 report on federal agencies' preparedness plans to protect employees during an influenza pandemic. GAO found that since its 2009 report, federal agencies have made progress, but due to a lack of oversight it remains unclear as to whether agencies have all the appropriate policies and procedures in place to protect employees.
"Preparing federal employees for an influenza pandemic is critical to the continuity of government operations," Chairman Akaka said. "GAO's report shows that while progress has been made, a number of agencies have more to do to protect their workers and we need greater oversight of their plans. It's a matter of when, not if, the next pandemic will strike, and we must not let our guard down. I encourage all agencies to continue reviewing and updating their plans to ensure that essential operations can continue and workers are safe during a pandemic."
The GAO study revealed that:
Since the 2009 GAO review (GAO-08-404), more federal agencies have developed plans to protect employees during an influenza pandemic by identifying various workforce strategies and planning the distribution of protective equipment to employees whose duties require them to work onsite;
Ten of the 20 agencies that have mission essential functions that must be performed onsite have not identified the number of employees that would perform mission essential functions nor notified employees that they would be expected to work during an influenza pandemic;
The Homeland Security Council's 2006 National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza Implementation Plan directed the Department of Homeland Security to report to the President on agencies' readiness to continue operations during an influenza pandemic, but currently the department does not oversee these plans;
Although the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) conducts biannual assessments of federal department and agencies' continuity of operations plans, its assessments do not specifically include influenza pandemic planning.
GAO recommended that the Secretary of Homeland Security direct the FEMA Administrator to oversee agencies' progress in developing and maintaining plans to protect workers. Specifically, GAO recommended that FEMA's assessments of agencies' continuity capabilities should include a review of progress in evaluating exposure risk levels, identifying appropriate protective measures, and establishing operational plans to provide such protections. The Department of Homeland Security agreed with the recommendation.
Senator Akaka is Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia.