Fast Facts

This review of the federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic is our fifth comprehensive report since June 2020 about the implementation of the CARES Act.

We remain deeply troubled by the lack of sufficient federal action on critical gaps identified and by the lack of clear plans to address these gaps. For example, a clear and comprehensive vaccine distribution plan remains a work in progress.

As of January, 27 of our 31 previous recommendations had not been implemented. This report makes 13 new recommendations to improve agencies' public health and economic recovery efforts, including the development of a national testing strategy.

Medical professional using a syringe to withdraw the COVID-19 vaccine from a vial.

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Highlights

What GAO Found

Since November 2020, the number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. has rapidly increased, further straining health care systems across the country. Between December 31, 2020, and January 13, 2021, new reported COVID-19 cases averaged about 225,000 per day—over 7 and 3 times higher than the surges the nation experienced during the spring and summer of 2020, respectively. (See figure.) The country also continues to experience serious economic repercussions and turmoil as a result of the pandemic. As of December 2020, there were more than 10.7 million unemployed individuals, compared to nearly 5.8 million individuals at the beginning of the calendar year. Until the country better contains the spread of the virus, the pandemic will likely remain a significant obstacle to more robust economic activity.

Figure described in preceding paragraph. For additional information about this figure, refer to contacts listed at http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-21-265

In this report, GAO is making 13 recommendations to federal agencies to improve the ongoing response and recovery efforts in the areas of public health and the economy. As the new Congress and administration establish their policies and priorities for the federal government’s COVID-19 response, GAO urges swift action on these 13 recommendations, as well as on the additional recommendations that GAO has made since June 2020.

As of January 2021, 27 of GAO’s 31 previous recommendations remained unimplemented. GAO remains deeply troubled that agencies have not acted on recommendations to more fully address critical gaps in the medical supply chain. While GAO recognizes federal agencies continue to take some steps, GAO underscores the importance of developing a well-formulated plan to address critical gaps for the remainder of the pandemic, especially in light of the recent surge in cases. In addition, implementation of GAO’s recommendation concerning the importance of clear and comprehensive vaccine distribution and communication plans remains a work in progress. Moreover, slow implementation of GAO’s recommendations relating to program integrity, in particular those made to the Small Business Administration (SBA) and Department of Labor (DOL), creates risk of considerable improper payments, including those related to fraud, and falls far short of transparency and accountability expectations. See appendix III for the status of GAO’s past recommendations.

GAO is pleased that the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021—enacted in December of 2020—requires a number of actions that are consistent with several of GAO’s prior recommendations, including those related to the medical supply chain, vaccines and therapeutics, and COVID-19 testing. GAO will monitor the implementation of the act’s requirements.

GAO’s new recommendations are discussed below.

COVID-19 Testing

Diagnostic testing for COVID-19 is critical to controlling the spread of the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. GAO found that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has not issued a comprehensive and publicly available national testing strategy. HHS’s national strategy documents are not comprehensive because they only partially address the characteristics that GAO has found to be desirable in an effective national strategy. For example, testing strategy documents do not always provide consistent definitions and benchmarks to measure progress, not all documents clearly define the problem and risks, and there is limited information on the types of resources required for future needs.

Furthermore, some of the documents have not been made public. While the national testing strategy is formally outlined in a publicly available document, HHS has provided only Congress with the COVID-19 Testing Strategy Reports, which detail the implementation of the testing strategy. Stakeholders who are involved in the response efforts told GAO they were unaware of the existence of a national strategy or did not have a clear understanding of the strategy. Without a comprehensive, publicly available national strategy, HHS is at risk of key stakeholders and the public lacking crucial information to support an informed and coordinated testing response. GAO is recommending that HHS develop and make publicly available a comprehensive national COVID-19 testing strategy that incorporates all six characteristics of an effective national strategy. Such a strategy could build upon existing strategy documents that HHS has produced for the public and Congress to allow for a more coordinated pandemic testing approach. HHS partially concurred with this recommendation and agreed that it should take steps to more directly incorporate some of the elements of an effective national strategy.

Vaccines and Therapeutics

Multiple federal agencies, through Operation Warp Speed, continue to support the development and manufacturing of vaccines and therapeutics to prevent and treat COVID-19. As of January 8, 2021, two of the six vaccines supported by Operation Warp Speed have been authorized for emergency use, and vaccine distribution and administration have begun. (See figure below). However, distribution and administration fell short of expectations set for the end of the year. As of December 30, 2020, Operation Warp Speed had distributed (shipped) about 12.4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine and providers reported administering about 2.8 million initial doses, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. In September 2020, GAO stressed the importance of having a plan that focused on coordination and communication and recommended that HHS, with the support of the Department of Defense, establish a time frame for documenting and sharing a national plan for distributing and administering COVID-19 vaccine, and among other things, outline an approach for how efforts would be coordinated across federal agencies and nonfederal entities.To date, this recommendationhas not been fully implemented. GAO reiterates the importance of doing so. Effective coordination and communication among federal agencies, commercial partners, jurisdictions, and providers is critical to successfully deploying COVID-19 vaccines and managing public expectations, especially because the initial supply of vaccine has been limited.

Figure described in preceding paragraph. For additional information about this figure, refer to contacts listed at http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-21-265

Medical Supply Chain

The pandemic has highlighted vulnerabilities in the nation’s medical supply chain, which includes personal protective equipment and other supplies necessary to treat individuals with COVID-19. The Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) is an important piece of HHS’s recently developed strategy to improve the medical supply chain to enhance pandemic response capabilities. However, the department has yet to develop a process for engaging about the strategy with key nonfederal stakeholders that have a shared role for providing supplies during a pandemic, such as state and territorial governments and the private sector. GAO’s work has noted the importance of directly and continuously involving key stakeholders, including Congress, in the development of successful agency reforms and helping to harness ideas, expertise, and resources.

To improve the nation’s response and preparedness for pandemics, GAO recommends that HHS establish a process for regularly engaging with Congress and nonfederal stakeholders—including state, local, tribal, and territorial governments and private industry—as the agency refines and implements its supply chain strategy for pandemic preparedness, to include the role of the SNS.HHS generally concurred with this recommendation and noted that the department regularly engages with Congress and nonfederal stakeholders. GAO maintains that capitalizing on existing relationships to engage these critical stakeholders as HHS refines and implements a supply chain strategy, to include the role of the SNS, will improve a whole-of-government response to, and preparedness for, pandemics.

In August 2020, the President issued an Executive Order directing agencies to take steps toward the goal of strengthening domestic drug manufacturing and supply chains. Federal agencies have started implementing the Executive Order, but expressed concerns about their ability to implement some of the provisions. In particular, GAO found that federal agencies do not have complete and accessible information to identify supply chain vulnerabilities and to report the manufacturing supply chains of drugs that were procured by the agency.

To help it identify and mitigate vulnerabilities in the U.S. drug supply chain, GAO recommends that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ensure drug manufacturing data obtained are complete and accessible, including by working with manufacturers and other federal agencies, such as the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs and, if necessary, seek authority to obtain complete and accessible information. HHS neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation.

COVID-19 Data for Health Care Indicators

The federal government does not have a process to help systematically define and ensure the collection of standardized data across the relevant federal agencies and related stakeholders to help respond to COVID-19, communicate the status of the pandemic with citizens, or prepare for future pandemics. As a result, COVID-19 information that is collected and reported by states and other entities to the federal government is often incomplete and inconsistent. The lack of complete and consistent data limits HHS’s and others’ ability to monitor trends in the burden of the pandemic across states and regions, make informed comparisons between such areas, and assess the impact of public health actions to prevent and mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Further, incomplete and inconsistent data have limited HHS’s and others’ ability to prioritize the allocation of health resources in specific geographic areas or among certain populations most affected by the pandemic.

To improve the federal government’s response to COVID-19 and preparedness for future pandemics, GAO recommends that HHS immediately establish an expert committee comprised of knowledgeable health care professionals from the public and private sectors, academia, and nonprofits or use an existing one to systematically review and inform the alignment of ongoing data collection and reporting standards for key health indicators.HHS partially concurred with this recommendation and agreed that it should establish a dedicated working group or other mechanism with a focus on addressing COVID-19 data collection shortcomings.

Drug Manufacturing Inspections

FDA is responsible for overseeing the safety and effectiveness of all drugs marketed in the U.S., including those manufactured overseas, and typically conducts more than 1,600 inspections of foreign and domestic drug manufacturing establishments every year. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, since March 2020, FDA has limited domestic and foreign inspections for the safety of its employees. (See figure below.)

FDA has used alternative inspection tools to maintain some oversight of drug manufacturing quality while inspections are paused, including inspections conducted by foreign regulators, requesting and reviewing records and other information, and sampling and testing. Although FDA has determined that inspections conducted by certain European regulators are equivalent to an FDA inspection, other tools provide useful information but are not equivalent to an FDA inspection. As a result, FDA could be faced with a backlog of inspections, threatening the agency’s goal to maximize inspections prioritized by its risk-based site selection model each year.

GAO recommends that FDA (1) ensure that inspection plans for future fiscal years identify, analyze, and respond to the issues presented by the backlog of inspections that could jeopardize its goal of risk-driven inspections, and (2) fully assess the agency’s alternative inspection tools and consider whether these tools or others could provide the information needed to supplement regular inspection activities or help meet the agency’s drug oversight objectives when inspections are not possible in the future. FDA concurred with both recommendations.

Figure described in preceding paragraph. For additional information about this figure, refer to contacts listed at http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-21-265

Federal Contracting

Federal agencies are using other transaction agreements to respond to the pandemic, which are contracting mechanisms that can enable agencies to negotiate terms and conditions specific to a project. GAO found that HHS misreports its other transaction agreements related to COVID-19 as procurement contracts, including other transaction agreements with about $1.5 billion obligated for Operation Warp Speed and other medical countermeasures. HHS’s approach is inconsistent with federal acquisition regulations and limits the public’s insight into the agency’s contract spending. To ensure consistent tracking and transparency of federal contracting activity related to the pandemic, GAO recommends that HHS accurately report data in the federal procurement database system and provide information that would allow the public to distinguish between spending on other transaction agreements and procurement contracts.HHS concurred with this recommendation.

Oversight of Worker Safety and Health

GAO identified concerns about federal oversight of worker safety and health amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has adapted its enforcement methods for COVID-19 to help protect agency employees from the virus and address resource constraints, such as by permitting remote inspections in place of on-site inspections of workplaces. However, gaps in OSHA’s oversight and tracking of its adapted enforcement methods prevent the agency from assessing the effectiveness of its enforcement methods during the pandemic, ensuring that its adapted enforcement methods do not miss violations, and ensuring that employers are addressing certain identified violations.

To improve its oversight, GAO recommends that OSHA (1) develop a plan, with time frames, to implement the agency’s oversight processes for COVID-19-adapted enforcement methods, and (2) ensure that its data system includes comprehensive information on use of these enforcement methods to inform these processes.The agency neither agreed nor disagreed with these recommendations.

Additionally, OSHA’s data do not include comprehensive information on workplace exposure to COVID-19. For example, OSHA does not receive employer reports of all work-related hospitalizations related to COVID-19, as disease symptoms do not appear within the required reporting time frames. Employers may also face challenges determining whether COVID-19 hospitalizations or fatalities are work-related because of COVID-19’s incubation period and the difficulties in tracking the source of exposure. GAO recommends that OSHA determine what additional datamay be neededfrom employers or other sources to better target the agency’s COVID-19 enforcement efforts.The agency neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation.

Assistance for Fishery Participants

The CARES Act appropriated $300 million in March 2020 to the Department of Commerce (Commerce) to assist eligible tribal, subsistence, commercial, and charter fishery participants affected by COVID-19, which may include direct relief payments. After administrative fees were assessed, $298 million of the $300 million appropriated was obligated for fishery participants.Widespread restaurant closures in the spring of 2020 led to a decrease in demand for seafood, adversely affecting the fisheries industry.

As of December 4, 2020, all funds had been obligated and only about 18 percent ($53.9 million) of the CARES Act funding obligated for fishery participants had been disbursed, which is inconsistent with Office of Management and Budget guidance on the importance of agencies distributing CARES Act funds in an expedient manner. Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) officials said they expect that the vast majority of funds will be disbursed to fisheries participants by early 2021. However, the agency does not have the needed information centralized to help ensure that funds are being disbursed expeditiously and efficiently. GAO recommends that NOAA develop a mechanism to track the progress of states, tribes, and territories in meeting established timelines to disburse funds in an expedited and efficient manner. NOAA concurred with this recommendation.

Program Integrity

GAO continues to identify areas to improve program integrity and reduce the risk of improper payments for programs funded by the COVID-19 relief laws now that federal agencies have obligated a total of $1.9 trillion and expended $1.7 trillion of the $2.7 trillion appropriated for response and recovery efforts as of November 30, 2020. Federal relief programs remain vulnerable to significant risk of fraudulent activities because of the need to quickly provide funds and other assistance to those affected by COVID-19 and its economic effects.

In this report, GAO identifies concerns about overpayments and potential fraud in the unemployment insurance (UI) system, specifically in the federally funded Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which provides UI benefits to individuals not otherwise eligible for these benefits, such as self-employed and certain gig economy workers. As of January 11, 2021, states that had submitted data to DOL reported more than $1.1 billion in PUA overpayments from March through December 2020. While DOL requires states to report data on PUA overpayments, as of the beginning of 2021, the agency was not tracking the amount of overpayments recovered, limiting insight into the effectiveness of states’ efforts to recoup federal funds. To better track the recovery of federal funds, GAO recommends that DOL collect data from states on the amount of PUA overpayments recovered. DOL concurred with this recommendation, and has taken the first step toward implementing it by issuing new guidance and updated instructions for states to report PUA overpayment recovery data.

GAO also remains concerned about SBA’s management of internal controls and fraud risks in the Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) program. COVID-19 relief laws made qualifying small businesses and nonprofit organizations adversely affected by COVID-19 eligible for financial assistance from the EIDL program. Some approval requirements were also relaxed, such as requiring each applicant to demonstrate that it could not obtain credit elsewhere, through December 31, 2021. As of December 31, 2020, SBA officials said they had approved about 3.7 million applications for loans related to COVID-19, totaling about $200 billion. SBA rapidly processed loans and advances to millions of small businesses affected by COVID-19. GAO’s analysis of SBA data shows that the agency approved EIDL loans and advances for potentially ineligible businesses. For example, SBA approved at least 3,000 loans totaling about $156 million to potentially ineligible businesses in industries that SBA policies state were ineligible for the EIDL program, such as insurance and real estate development, as of September 30, 2020. GAO recommends that SBA develop and implement portfolio-level data analytics across EIDL loans and advances made in response to COVID-19 as a means to detect potentially ineligible and fraudulent applications. SBA neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation.

Why GAO Did This Study

As of January 15, 2021, the U.S. had about 23 million cumulative reported cases of COVID-19 and more than 387,000 reported deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The country also continues to experience serious economic repercussions.

Four relief laws, including the CARES Act, were enacted as of November 2020 to provide appropriations to address the public health and economic threats posed by COVID-19. As of November 30, 2020, of the $2.7 trillion appropriated by these four laws, the federal government had obligated a total of $1.9 trillion and expended $1.7 trillion of the COVID-19 relief funds, as reported by federal agencies.

In December 2020, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, provided additional federal assistance for the ongoing response and recovery.

The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to report on its ongoing monitoring and oversight efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This report examines the federal government’s continued efforts to respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

GAO reviewed data, documents, and guidance from federal agencies about their activities and interviewed federal and state officials and stakeholders. GAO completed its audit work on January 15, 2021.

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Recommendations

GAO is making 13 new recommendations for agencies that are detailed in this Highlights and in the report.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response To improve the nation's response to and preparedness for pandemics, the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response should establish a process for regularly engaging with Congress and nonfederal stakeholders?including state, local, tribal, and territorial governments and private industry?as the Department of Health and Human Services refines and implements a supply chain strategy for pandemic preparedness, to include the role of the Strategic National Stockpile. (Recommendation 1)
Open
As of March 2021, HHS generally agreed with our recommendation, while noting that the term "engage" is vague and unclear, and that they regularly engage with Congress and nonfederal stakeholders. HHS added that improving the pandemic response capabilities of state, local, tribal, and territorial governments is a priority.
Food and Drug Administration The Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration should, as the agency makes changes to its collection of drug manufacturing data, ensure the information obtained is complete and accessible to help it identify and mitigate supply chain vulnerabilities, including by working with manufacturers and other federal agencies (e.g., the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs), and, if necessary, seek authority to obtain complete and accessible information. (Recommendation 2)
Open
HHS neither agreed nor disagreed with our recommendation. In HHS's response in January 2021, FDA said that it will consider our recommendation as it continues efforts to enhance relevant authorities and close data gaps. Since then, FDA has taken steps to increase its authority to collect more complete drug manufacturing data. For example, FDA's budget justification for fiscal year 2022 included a legislative proposal to further clarify the agency's authority to require more complete and frequent reporting for finished drug products and in-process material. Also, in June 2021, as part of a government-wide review of critical U.S. supply chains that included drugs and active pharmaceutical ingredients, HHS reported that it will develop and make recommendations to Congress to grant FDA authority to obtain additional supply chain data that would include reporting of more comprehensive drug manufacturing information to the agency and require drug labels to include original manufacturers, among other things. We will continue to monitor action on these efforts and, if implemented, determine whether they satisfy the intent of our recommendation.
Department of Health and Human Services
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
The Secretary of Health and Human Services should develop and make publicly available a comprehensive national COVID-19 testing strategy that incorporates all six characteristics of an effective national strategy. Such a strategy could build upon existing strategy documents that the Department of Health and Human Services has produced for the public and Congress to allow for a more coordinated pandemic testing approach. (Recommendation 3)
Open
HHS partially agreed with our recommendation. In January 2021, HHS agreed that the department should take steps to more directly incorporate some of the elements of an effective national strategy, but expressed concern that producing such a strategy at this time could be overly burdensome on the federal, state, and local entities that are responding to the pandemic, and that a plan would be outdated by the time it was finalized or potentially rendered obsolete by the rate of technological advancement. In May 2021, HHS told us that the White House and HHS plan to execute a National Testing Strategy that will act upon the administration's testing goals. According to HHS, a finalized document is forthcoming that includes specific actions as well as timelines to achieve these goals. HHS said the National Testing Strategy will speak to the country's short-term COVID-19 needs as well as the long-term needs associated with the country's broader bio-preparedness. We will continue to monitor the implementation of this recommendation.
Food and Drug Administration
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
The Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration should, as inspection plans for future fiscal years are developed, ensure that such plans identify, analyze, and respond to the issues presented by the backlog of inspections that could jeopardize the goal of risk-driven inspections. (Recommendation 4)
Open
FDA agreed with our recommendation and as of January 2021, stated that it is actively tracking the list of sites that need to be inspected. FDA further noted that the size of the backlog will depend on the extent to which alternative inspection tools are used.
Food and Drug Administration The Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration should fully assess the agency's alternative inspection tools and consider whether these tools or others could provide the information needed to supplement regular inspection activities or help meet its drug oversight objectives when inspections are not possible in the future. (Recommendation 5)
Open
FDA agreed with our recommendation and, as of January 2021, stated that it would continue to evaluate these alternative tools. FDA stated that the resulting information will help determine how the tools can be used to streamline and supplement regular inspection activities and to prioritize inspections when normal inspection operations are not possible.
Department of Health and Human Services
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
To improve the federal government's response to COVID-19 and preparedness for future pandemics, the Secretary of Health and Human Services should immediately establish an expert committee or use an existing one to systematically review and inform the alignment of ongoing data collection and reporting standards for key health indicators. This committee should include a broad representation of knowledgeable health care professionals from the public and private sectors, academia, and nonprofits. (Recommendation 6)
Open
HHS partially agreed with our recommendation. In its May 2021 response, HHS stated that it plans to consider ways to establish more permanent work groups to incorporate best practices for ongoing interagency data needs and to scale up as necessary during future public health emergencies. HHS also stated that the Data Strategy and Execution Workgroup, established as part of the HHS COVID-19 response, has helped address the need for a federal interagency coordination process to align ongoing COVID-19 data collection and reporting efforts. We maintain that immediately establishing an expert committee-not limited to federal agency officials-that includes knowledgeable health care professionals from the public and private sectors, academia, and nonprofits is an important and worthwhile effort to help improve the federal government's response to COVID-19 and its preparedness for future pandemics.
Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response The Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, in coordination with the appropriate offices within the Department of Health and Human Services, should accurately report data in the federal procurement database system and provide information that would allow the public to distinguish between spending on other transaction agreements and procurement contracts. (Recommendation 7)
Open
ASPR agreed with our recommendation. As of April 2021, ASPR officials stated that they had discussed within ASPR the need to consistently identify other transaction agreements in the Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation and explored how their contract writing system may interface with the other transaction agreement module of the data system in the future. ASPR officials added that in the meantime, they have identified other transaction agreements in the procurement module by manually adding designators such as "OTA" or "other transaction agreement" into the description of requirement data field.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
The Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health should develop a plan, with time frames, to implement the agency's oversight processes for COVID-19-adapted enforcement methods, as described in its pandemic enforcement policies. (Recommendation 8)
Open
DOL neither agreed nor disagreed with our recommendation. In May 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provided an update on its plans to implement oversight processes for remote inspections, informal inquiries conducted in place of inspections, and citation discretion. For oversight of remote inspections, OSHA officials said that the agency is no longer planning to conduct the oversight outlined in its May 2020 pandemic-related enforcement policy. Instead, officials said that follow-up for some, but not all, remotely conducted inspections would be performed according to area offices' discretion as part of OSHA's COVID-19 national emphasis program that went into effect on March 12, 2021. For oversight of informal inquiries conducted in place of inspections, in February 2021, OSHA officials said they planned to conduct follow-up inspections for a random sample of cases where COVID-19-related informal inquiries were conducted. However, this plan would target all informal inquiries, and not just those that were conducted in place of inspections because of the pandemic. Therefore, this sampling technique would draw from a larger pool of cases than originally planned in OSHA's May 2020 enforcement policy, and could make it less likely that the cases meriting further scrutiny would be identified for follow-up. In May 2021, OSHA officials told us they would consider this issue when they make further plans for this oversight. For oversight of citation discretion, in February 2021, OSHA officials said they would conduct a follow-up inspection for each case coded in the OSHA Information System as having used discretion to not cite violations. OSHA's COVID-19 national emphasis program includes instructions for conducting these follow-up inspections. However, it is unclear whether all instances where citation discretion was used can be identified in order to conduct follow-up inspections. For example, OSHA officials said that the OSHA Information System code to identify these instances was only intended to be used for discretion related to violations of certain standards, and OSHA has not assessed the extent to which area offices consistently used the code. Our review of Worker Safety and Health during the COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing. We will continue to examine OSHA's efforts to implement its oversight processes for COVID-19-adapted enforcement methods, including reviewing the planned oversight that is part of the COVID-19 national emphasis program.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
The Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health should ensure that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration Information System includes comprehensive information on use of the agency's COVID-19-adapted enforcement methods sufficient to inform its oversight processes for these methods. (Recommendation 9)
Open
DOL neither agreed nor disagreed with our recommendation. In February 2021, OSHA said that the agency believes its current OSHA Information System coding related to COVID-19 and adapted enforcement methods is sufficient to enable agency oversight, and that it will add new coding if and when it is needed. In March 2021, OSHA added a new code related to its new COVID-19 national emphasis program. While adding this code is beneficial, we remain concerned that the system is not collecting comprehensive information. Our work shows that some adapted enforcement methods are not captured in OSHA Information System coding, leaving OSHA unable to reliably track some of these methods, such as citation discretion and informal inquiries used in place of inspections. Our review of Worker Safety and Health during the COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing. We will continue to examine OSHA's efforts to ensure that the OSHA Information System includes sufficient information to inform its oversight processes.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration The Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health should determine what additional data may be needed from employers or other sources to better target the agency's COVID-19 enforcement efforts. (Recommendation 10)
Open
DOL neither agreed nor disagreed with our recommendation. In February 2021, OSHA said that it had considered our recommendation and determined that it did not need additional information from employers to identify where pandemic-related enforcement should be targeted. OSHA also said that, pursuant to the President's January 21, 2021, Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety, OSHA was working to launch a national program to focus its COVID-19-related enforcement efforts on violations that put the largest number of workers at serious risk or that are contrary to anti-retaliation principles. In March 2021, OSHA launched its COVID-19 national emphasis program for this purpose. Our review of Worker Safety and Health during the COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing. We will continue to examine OSHA's efforts in order to determine whether actions taken, including the implementation of OSHA's COVID-19 national emphasis program, address our recommendation.
National Marine Fisheries Service The Assistant Administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries should develop a mechanism to track the progress of states, tribes, and territories in meeting timelines established in spend plans to disburse funds in an expedited and efficient manner. (Recommendation 11)
Open
As of February 1, 2021, the agency had developed an electronic tool to track the disbursement of funds and had begun to input data into it based on approved spend plans. The agency plans to update these data on a weekly basis as funds are disbursed. The agency anticipates that all current and relevant data will be entered into the tracking tool by May 2021 and that data will continue to be added to it until all funding has been disbursed.
Office of Unemployment Insurance The Secretary of Labor should ensure the Office of Unemployment Insurance collects data from states on the amount of overpayments recovered in the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, similar to the regular unemployment insurance program. (Recommendation 12)
Open
DOL agreed with our recommendation and on January 8, 2021, issued PUA program guidance and updated instructions for states to report PUA overpayments recovered. As of June 21, 2021, this recommendation remained open, as just 27 states had begun reporting some data on the amount of PUA overpayments recovered. Sustained reporting by most states is needed to help inform DOL, policymakers, and the public about the amount of PUA overpayments states have recovered. We will continue to monitor state reporting of PUA overpayment recovery data.
Small Business Administration
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
The Administrator of the Small Business Administration should develop and implement portfolio-level data analytics across Economic Injury Disaster Loan program loans and advances made in response to COVID-19 as a means to detect potentially ineligible and fraudulent applications. (Recommendation 13)
Open
At the time of our report, SBA neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation. As of May 2021, SBA officials stated that the agency was in the process of developing an analysis to apply certain fraud indicators to all application data. These fraud indicators include applicants' physical address, internet protocol address, email address, phone numbers, bank accounts, and tax identification numbers.

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