Influenza Pandemic:

DOD Has Taken Important Actions to Prepare, but Accountability, Funding, and Communications Need to be Clearer and Focused Departmentwide

GAO-06-1042: Published: Sep 21, 2006. Publicly Released: Oct 20, 2006.

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An influenza pandemic would be of global and national significance and could affect large numbers of Department of Defense (DOD) personnel, seriously challenging DOD's readiness. GAO was asked to examine DOD's pandemic influenza preparedness efforts. This report focuses on DOD's planning for its workforce, specifically (1) actions DOD has taken to prepare and (2) challenges DOD faces going forward. GAO analyzed guidance, contracts, and plans, and met with DOD officials.

DOD had taken a number of actions since September 2004 to prepare for an influenza pandemic, and its planning efforts continue to evolve. The Implementation Plan for the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza, released in May 2006, tasked each federal department to develop its own implementation plan that details how it will carry out its responsibilities as outlined in the national plan and how it will prepare its workforce. DOD established working groups for its pandemic influenza planning efforts, including the Pandemic Influenza Task Force, which included representatives from across the department, including the Offices of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (ASD) for Homeland Defense, ASD for Health Affairs, ASD for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In addition, the Office of the ASD for Health Affairs developed guidance that provided tasks for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, military departments, installation commanders, and others to complete to prepare for a pandemic. Further, several entities within DOD drafted plans and guidance, and DOD had taken other important steps, such as establishing Web sites, stockpiling vaccines and antivirals, and initiating projects to assist other nations with their preparedness efforts. Going forward, DOD faces four management challenges that it needs to address as it shifts its focus to the department as a whole. First, at the time of GAO's review, neither the Secretary of Defense nor the Deputy Secretary of Defense had yet issued guidance defining lead and supporting roles and responsibilities with clear lines of authority, oversight mechanisms, and goals and performance measures for DOD's influenza pandemic planning efforts. The lack of these accountability mechanisms over time may hamper the leadership's ability to ensure that planning efforts across the department are progressing as intended. Second, DOD had not yet requested funding for its pandemic influenza preparedness efforts linked to departmentwide goals. Therefore, it is unclear whether DOD can address the tasks assigned to it in the national implementation plan and pursue its own preparedness efforts for its workforce departmentwide within current resources. Third, DOD had not yet fully defined or communicated departmentwide which types of personnel--military and civilian personnel, contractors, beneficiaries, and dependents--it plans to include in its distribution of vaccines and antivirals. Fourth, DOD had not yet fully developed its communications strategy or communicated information to its personnel departmentwide on what actions to take in the event of an influenza pandemic. Also, DOD had not yet developed a plan to communicate information on the safety and efficacy of vaccines and antivirals, if DOD decides to dispense them. While DOD established Web sites with some information on pandemic influenza, GAO identified some unevenness across the department in terms of the information personnel received. A comprehensive and effective communications strategy could ensure that DOD's personnel departmentwide are aware of actions they should take in the event of an influenza pandemic.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To improve accountability and oversight of planning efforts across DOD as the department continues its pandemic influenza planning for its workforce, the Secretary of Defense should instruct the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs to clarify DOD's guidance to explicitly define whether or how all types of personnel--including DOD's military and civilian personnel, contractors, dependents, and beneficiaries--would be included in DOD's distribution of vaccines and antivirals and communicate this information departmentwide.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In August 2007, DOD issued additional guidance related to the distribution of its vaccine and antiviral stockpiles in the event of an influenza pandemic.

    Recommendation: To improve accountability and oversight of planning efforts across DOD as the department continues its pandemic influenza planning for its workforce, the Secretary of Defense should instruct the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense to work with the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) to establish a framework for requesting funding for the department's preparedness efforts. The framework should include the appropriate funding mechanism and controls to ensure that needed funding for DOD's pandemic influenza preparedness efforts is tied to the department's goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) is utilizing established protocols for programming funds related to pandemic influenza preparedness for DOD. Funding requests for preparedness efforts were submitted as part of the department's fiscal year 2009 integrated program and budget review and long-term funding requests will be included in future budget requests.

    Recommendation: To improve accountability and oversight of planning efforts across DOD as the department continues its pandemic influenza planning for its workforce, the Secretary of Defense should instruct the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense, as the individual accountable for DOD's pandemic influenza planning and preparedness efforts, to clearly and fully define and communicate departmentwide the roles and responsibilities of the organizations that will be involved in DOD's efforts, with clear lines of authority; the oversight mechanisms, including reporting requirements, for all aspects of DOD's pandemic influenza planning efforts, to include those tasks that are outside of the national implementation plan; and the goals and performance measures for DOD's planning and preparedness efforts.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In written comments on a draft of the report, DOD generally concurred with the recommendation, noting that the Deputy Secretary of Defense verbally designated the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense, working with the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, to lead DOD's pandemic influenza efforts and established a Pandemic Influenza Task Force. This information was communicated throughout the department when the Principal Deputy to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Americas' Security Affairs issued DOD's Implementation Plan for Pandemic Influenza within the department in a July 2006 memo. Additionally, U.S. Northern Command was designated as the lead Combatant Command for directing, planning, and synchronizing DOD's global response to an influenza pandemic; this information was disseminated throughout the department in November 2006.

    Recommendation: To improve accountability and oversight of planning efforts across DOD as the department continues its pandemic influenza planning for its workforce, the Secretary of Defense should instruct the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs to implement a comprehensive and effective communications strategy departmentwide that is transparent as to what actions each group of personnel should take and the limitations of the efficacy, risks, and potential side effects of vaccines and antivirals.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In comments on a draft of our report, DOD noted that the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense had developed public affairs guidance that was expected to be issued in September 2006, after our report was issued. DOD included public affairs guidance in its August 2006 pandemic influenza implementation plan, as well as U.S. Northern Command's pandemic influenza plan, which was approved in August 2006. Since the issuance of our report, DOD has updated its publicly available pandemic influenza web site, to include links to the Military Vaccine Agency, which provides information on the risks and side effects of vaccines.

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