GAO Releases Report on Mpox Response Originally Requested by U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres; Determines HHS Lacks Cohesive Strategy for Coordination and Improvement

Rep. Torres Introduces CARE ACT to Address Shortfalls Highlighted in Report

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a long-awaited report: “Public Health Preparedness: Mpox Response Highlights Need for HHS to Address Recurring Challenges.” Beginning in July 2022, Congressman Ritchie Torres (NY-15) was the leading Congressional voice urging the GAO and HHS to do such a report, and he is grateful to the GAO for tackling this crucial issue head-on.

As a Co-Chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus and the sole LGBTQI+ member of Congress from New York City — which was the epicenter of the Mpox outbreak — Rep. Torres has fought tirelessly to ensure that his community’s vital health needs are not forgotten.

In GAO’s report, they concluded that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) lacks a cohesive, department-wide strategy for learning from past public health emergencies to improve future responses. The GAO’s findings reveal a significant gap in the coordination among HHS’s component agencies, resulting in missed opportunities for leveraging collective experiences and insights. This fragmentation impedes the effectiveness of public health emergency preparedness and response. In addition, the report found that HHS’s ability to apply lessons and learn following an emergency response was further limited due to not always having all relevant stakeholders involved when identifying challenges and associated solutions.

The report also identified shortcomings in risk communication efforts by HHS and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), particularly in reaching and clearly communicating risks to the most vulnerable populations. This includes the inadequacy of Mpox communication efforts in terms of inclusivity and the limitations faced by non-English speakers due to insufficient translation of critical public health information.

In response to the report’s conclusions, Rep. Torres is today introducing the Coordinated Agency Response Enhancement (CARE Act). This legislation, if enacted, would:

Require the Secretary of HHS to develop and implement a coordinated, department-wide after-action program that encourages collaboration between HHS’s component agencies, including integrating the existing public health emergency after-action programs of these component agencies. The after-action program should include relevant external stakeholders involved in each public health emergency response — such as other federal agencies, jurisdictions, and nongovernmental partners — when identifying challenges and associated solutions.

Require the Secretary of HHS to direct the CDC and other relevant HHS agencies to develop and implement a comprehensive risk communication strategy that is inclusive and culturally sensitive. This strategy would be designed to clearly identify at-risk populations during public health emergencies and provide targeted, understandable, and accessible information to prevent the spread of diseases. The act would also require the translation of public health communications into multiple languages.

Implementing a department-wide after-action program, coupled with a commitment to inclusive and culturally sensitive risk communication, would significantly strengthen the nation’s capacity to manage public health emergencies. By learning from past experiences and ensuring clear, accessible coordination, HHS can better protect all communities, particularly the most at-risk populations, against future health crises. This bill represents a critical step forward in our ongoing efforts to enhance public health emergency preparedness and response capabilities across the United States.

On the report’s findings and the CARE Act, Rep. Torres released the following statement:

“As I have long suspected, today’s report makes abundantly clear that our government’s disease response apparatus is not properly equipped to successfully coordinate and improve its systems and processes over time. In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and Mpox outbreak, it’s time we radically change our federal approach to public health. Marginalized and at-risk communities cannot afford to bear the brunt of another public health emergency, desperately waiting for the government to get its act together. I am urging my partners at HHS and across the Biden administration to read through the full report and implement a set of clear policies in response to mitigate future crises, and this is exactly what I intend to pursue with the CARE Act.”

Additional relevant materials:
CBS News: Rep. Ritchie Torres calls for investigation of federal mpox response (July 18, 2022)
News12: Rep. Torres: Federal government ‘failing’ to respond to mpox outbreak (July 19, 2022)
NY1: Torres wants to investigate federal mpox response (July 19, 2022)
PBS: Video Interview with Rep. Ritchie Torres on the federal response to Mpox (July 27, 2022)
The Hill: House Democrats ask for review of US mpox response (August 1, 2022)
“A trio of House Democrats on Monday requested that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) review the ‘adequacy of the Federal response to the mpox outbreak.’ In a letter addressed to U.S. Comptroller General Gene Dodaro, Democratic Reps. Bennie Thompson (Miss.), Richie Torres (N.Y.) and Val Demings (Fla.) asked that the government watchdog agency conduct a review in order to ‘make recommendations for ongoing and future preparedness and response efforts.’ ‘We are concerned that the pace of the Federal response to mpox has enabled the virus to spread for two months and delays in distributing tests and vaccines have harmed efforts to contain the virus,’ the House members said, noting that it took months for millions of Jynneos vaccine doses to be approved for distribution from a plant in Denmark.”
GAO Report

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