Homeland Security: New Department Could Improve Coordination but May Complicate Priority Setting

GAO-02-893T Published: Jun 28, 2002. Publicly Released: Jun 28, 2002.
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Since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and the subsequent anthrax incidents, there has been concern about the ability of the federal government to prepare for and coordinate an effective public health response given the broad distribution of responsibility for that task at the federal level. More then 20 federal departments and agencies carry some responsibility for bioterrorism preparedness and response. The President's proposed Homeland Security Act of 2002 would bring many of these federal entities with homeland security responsibilities--including public health preparedness and response--into one department to mobilize and focus assets and resources at all levels of government. The proposed reorganization has the potential to assist in the coordination of public health preparedness and response programs at the federal, state, and local levels. There are concerns, however, about the proposed transfer of control of public health assistance programs that have both basic public health and homeland security functions from Health and Human Services to the new department. Transferring control over these programs, including priority setting, to the new department has the potential to disrupt some programs critical to basic public health responsibilities. The President's proposal is unclear on how both the homeland security and the public health objectives would be accomplished.

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