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As Administration Moves to Replace HHS Watchdog, Spanberger, Connolly, Beyer, Porter, & Crow Continue Push for HHS OIG Investigation into Strategic National Stockpile Mismanagement

Lawmakers: “The Consequences of HHS’s Mismanagement of the Stockpile Have Been Disastrous for Our States and Our Constituents”

Henrico, May 4, 2020

HENRICO, V.A. – U.S. Representatives Abigail Spanberger (D-VA-07), Gerald E. Connolly (D-VA-11), Donald S. Beyer Jr. (D-VA-08), Katie Porter (D-CA-45), and Jason Crow (D-CO-06) are urging congressional appropriators to use funding passed as part of the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act­ to support an official investigation into the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS’s) mismanagement of the Strategic National Stockpile.

Last month, these Members called on the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) at HHS to open an official investigation into HHS’s stocking and deployment of personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators, and other materials from the Stockpile ahead of COVID-19 outbreaks across the United States. In response to their letter, then-HHS Principal Deputy Inspector General Christi Grimm acknowledged the receipt of their letter and promised to “follow up accordingly.” On Friday, the White House announced its move to replace Grimm following her office’s release of a report describing widespread shortages of PPE and testing equipment at U.S. hospitals.

Following their push, the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act­—signed into law by President Trump—appropriated an additional $6 million for HHS oversight activities. In their letter sent to U.S. House and U.S. Senate appropriators, the lawmakers called on congressional leaders to use these additional funds to prioritize an investigation into HHS’s mishandling and mismanagement of the Strategic National Stockpile.

“The consequences of HHS’s mismanagement of the Stockpile have been disastrous for our states and our constituents. The inadequate shipments of personal protective equipment did little to alleviate severe shortages that have put our health care workers at risk of infection,” said Spanberger, Connolly, Beyer, Porter, and Crow. “The lack of federal coordination and leadership has sent our states’ governors scrambling to find their own supplies in a chaotic international marketplace. Amidst all these problems, we were especially disappointed that the Administration’s message for states has been that ‘they’re on their own’ when it comes to finding these necessary supplies.”

“Public health and preparedness experts agree that the best way to be prepared for a pandemic or other emergency is to maintain an everyday system that can be quickly scaled up to meet new demands,” the letter continues. “An OIG investigation is needed to ensure that the mistakes of the past few months are not repeated in future pandemics.

Last month, the lawmakers also asked for answers about states’ requests for supplies from the Strategic National Stockpile, the amount of material each state received, and the amount of time elapsed between requests and when materials were shipped.

Click here to read the letter, and the full letter text is also printed below.

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Dear Chairwoman Lowey, Ranking Member Granger, Chairman Shelby, and Ranking Member Leahy,

We write to thank you for the additional $6 million for oversight activities by the Health and Human Service (HHS) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) included in the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act (P.L. 116-139). As you know, the Act instructs the OIG to consult with your Committees prior to obligating these additional funds. We’d respectfully request that as you work with OIG to identify oversight priorities, your Committees emphasize the urgency of an investigation into HHS’s mismanagement of the Strategic National Stockpile.

We have already been in touch with the HHS OIG about this issue. On April 13th we wrote Deputy Inspector General Grimm to express our concern that shipments of personal protective equipment from the Stockpile to our states were woefully inadequate and asked that the office open an investigation into this issue as well as the management of the Stockpile both during and before the current crisis. On April 16, Deputy Inspector Grimm acknowledged receipt of our letter and promised to “follow up accordingly.” We continue to hope that she announces an investigation into concerns raised by that letter soon. We have included a copy of that letter for your reference.

The consequences of HHS’s mismanagement of the Stockpile have been disastrous for our states and our constituents. The inadequate shipments of personal protective equipment did little to alleviate severe shortages that have put our health care workers at risk of infection. The lack of federal coordination and leadership has sent our states’ governors scrambling to find their own supplies in a chaotic international marketplace. Amidst all these problems, we were especially disappointed that the Administration’s message for states has been that “they’re on their own” when it comes to finding these necessary supplies.

This Administration has clearly not taken preparedness for pandemics and other public health emergencies seriously. As you know, HHS has repeatedly proposed large budget cuts to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other infectious disease response programs. In May 2018, then-National Security Advisor John Bolton dismissed the Senior Director for Global Health Security and Biothreats, meaning no senior Administration official has been focused on global health security for the past two years, all but ensuring that it would be unclear who would be in charge during a pandemic like the one we’re living through now.

Public health and preparedness experts agree that the best way to be prepared for a pandemic or other emergency is to maintain an everyday system that can be quickly scaled up to meet new demands. An OIG investigation is needed to ensure that the mistakes of the past few months are not repeated in future pandemics.

As you consult with the OIG on allocations of funding priorities, we urge you to emphasize the importance of an investigation into the Stockpile’s failure of our states consistent with our earlier letter’s request. Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

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