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GAO Finds Problems in Government's Flu Readiness

A June 16 report summarizing three agencies with essential occupations that cannot be done remotely, including air traffic controllers, indicates the FAA in particular isn't ready and believes long-term use of respirators during a pandemic is impractical.

A pair of reports written by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, finds uneven and sometimes unsatisfactory flu pandemic preparedness by the 24 agencies that employ nearly all 2.6 million federal workers. GAO chose three agencies to examine closely because they include essential occupations that cannot be done remotely; these were Bureau of Prisons correctional officers, FAA air traffic controllers, and Treasury workers who process Social Security and other federal payments. FAA was least prepared of the three, with air traffic control management facilities having not yet developed facility pandemic plans or incorporated pandemic plans into their all-hazards contingency plans when GAO conducted its survey. FAA recently completed a study that concluded long-term use of respirators by air traffic controllers during a pandemic "appears to be impractical," according to GAO.

The reports ranked the 24 agencies according to how thoroughly they had tested their IT infrastructure to ensure it could handle telework or work-at-home arrangements during a pandemic. The National Science Foundation fared best, having tested its infrastructure to a great extent. The departments of Labor, Transportation, Education, and Commerce ranked lower, having tested theirs to a moderate extent. Ranked lowest were five agencies that included Homeland Security, NASA, and the Department of Agriculture.

The reports were released June 12 and June 16 and were prepared for the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs. GAO said there is no mechanism in place to monitor and report on federal agencies' pandemic plans, and GAO recommended that the Homeland Security Council direct Janet Napolitano, DHS secretary, to report on agencies' readiness.

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