HHS doesn't have plan for IT pandemic surveillance, GAO says

Department three years late in meeting requirements of 2006 law

The Health and Human Services Department hasn't developed a strategic plan for a national electronic network for public health situational awareness four years after being told to do so by Congress, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

The department has made progress on developing related systems — such as those for biosurveillance, health data exchange and public health information sharing — but has not made progress on a comprehensive plan for situational awareness, GAO said in the Dec. 17 report.

HHS hasn't fulfilled Congress’ vision for a comprehensive strategy under the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act (PAHPA) of 2006, GAO auditors concluded. The department missed the 2007 deadline and has not completed the plan to date, although progress has been made in creating related capabilities such as the BioSense syndromic surveillance program and the Nationwide Health Information Network for sharing health data, GAO said.


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“HHS has not defined a comprehensive strategic plan that identifies goals, objectives, activities, and priorities and that integrates related strategies to achieve the unified electronic nationwide situational awareness capability required by PAHPA,” the GAO report states.

The legislation was intended to meet the need for efficient sharing of near-real-time information during a public health emergency. HHS was supposed to coordinate with state and local agencies to create a strategy and a national network for monitoring public health electronically in near-real time.

The report recommends that HHS:

  • Immediately work to develop and implement a strategic plan to establish an electronic public health situational awareness network that meets the requirements of PAHPA.
  • Identify performance measures for evaluating the capabilities of the systems in that network.
  • Integrate elements of related strategies to achieve a unified public situational awareness capability as defined under that law.

In responding to the report, HHS officials said they neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendations.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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