As President Joe Biden continues to sort through the wreckage left by his predecessor, a government agency known as the "congressional watchdog" issued a new report Thursday shedding more light on the Trump administration's failed response to the raging coronavirus pandemic.
Although Biden on Tuesday announced the purchase of enough additional doses to fully vaccinate a total 300 million people nationwide by late summer or early fall, over 430,000 Americans had died from Covid-19 by Thursday afternoon and the country's hospitalizations, though falling, have still topped 100,000 every day this month.
The report released Thursday by the Government Accountability Office (GAO)—entitled Covid-19: Critical Vaccine Distribution, Supply Chain, Program Integrity, and Other Challenges Require Focused Federal Attention—is the fifth agency analysis of the March 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
The findings alarmed key lawmakers, including Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), House majority whip and chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.
As Clyburn put it: "Today's alarming report from the Government Accountability Office provides further confirmation of what the select subcommittee's investigations have made clear: the previous administration's coronavirus response failed across the board, exacerbating the pandemic's toll of death, disease, and economic harm."
COVID-19 deaths are rising by 10% or more in 21 states across the US. Deaths are rising fastest in the West and South. pic.twitter.com/JDCaPupu74
— The COVID Tracking Project (@COVID19Tracking) January 28, 2021
"The report illustrates how the response was ineffective, lacking a 'comprehensive' testing strategy and failing to address medical supply shortages; inefficient, bungling the initial stages of vaccine distribution; and inequitable, failing to protect workers and leaving federal relief programs 'vulnerable to significant risk of fraudulent activities,'" Clyburn said in a statement.
"Perhaps most disturbingly," the majority whip added, "today's report reveals that even after GAO made 27 different recommendations aimed at improving the response, the Trump administration failed to implement them."
That means only four of 31 GAO recommendations have been implemented. "GAO remains deeply troubled that agencies have not acted on recommendations to more fully address critical gaps in the medical supply chain," the report says. "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."
Latest CARES Act report from @USGAO "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." https://t.co/yqq8tVxYzi
— Jennifer LaFleur (@j_la28) January 28, 2021
The former administration's refusal to act on the agency's recommendations also drew criticism from Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, who said that "this report confirms what we already knew: the Trump administration failed to take any meaningful action to improve the federal response to the Covid-19 pandemic during its final months."
"Its inaction to address critical weaknesses that GAO previously identified, including developing clear and comprehensive plans for testing and vaccine distribution, likely cost lives and created an even bigger mess for the new administration," he added.
Clyburn's office highlighted some major findings from the report: that vaccine distribution under President Donald Trump "fell short of expectations" as well as his administration's failure to address "critical gaps in the medical supply chain" or fraudulent activity related to corporate relief programs.
"Implementation of GAO's recommendation concerning the importance of clear and comprehensive vaccine distribution and communication plans remains a work in progress," the report says. "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."
While the pandemic will continue to kill thousands of Americans each day & prevent the full resumption of normal economic activity—as a result of the failures laid out in today’s report—the federal government is finally taking the steps necessary to begin ending this crisis.
— James E. Clyburn (@WhipClyburn) January 28, 2021
The report urges the new Democrat-controlled Congress and administration to act on not only the previously ignored recommendations but also 13 new ones.
"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," the agency adds. "GAO will monitor the implementation of the act's requirements."
Thompson expressed hope that the new president will—as he promised on the campaign trail—pursue a more effective Covid-19 agenda.
"I'm encouraged that President Biden has already released a national strategy to improve the federal response effort—and is using the full force of the federal government to enact it," he said. "It's tragic it has taken a year and over 400,000 American lives lost for the federal government to take substantive action to take this pandemic seriously."