An audit released by the U.S Department of Homeland Security inspector general revealed that the department. is “ill-prepared” to keep the government running in the event of a future pandemic.
The Department of Homeland Security has been stockpiling supplies, including respirators, surgical masks, hand sanitizer, and antiviral medications for nearly 10 years. According to CBS News, the supplies were supposed to prepare the department personnel and other government employees to be able to function in the event of a pandemic such as the 2009 outbreak of H1N1 flu, the same strain that caused several deaths in the U.S. this past winter as reported by Inquisitr.
Since Congress gave the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) $47 million in 2006 to pay for training and supplies needed to prepare for a pandemic, the agency has been stocking up. However, a lot of the supplies and medicine they have stockpiled will expire within the next year.
According to the audit, conducted by Inspector General John Roth, 81 percent of the approximately 300,000 vials of Tamiflu and Relenza, antiviral medications used to treat flu, will expire in 2015. All of the respirators purchased have already reached, or will soon reach, their recommended date of usability. And of almost 5000 bottles of hand sanitizer, close to 84 percent were expired.
Roth said that in many cases, the supplies were bought without the agency researching exactly what they would need in the event of a pandemic and that DHS didn’t create any type of system to ensure that the supplies were rotated or replenished. The audit also found almost $5 million worth of antibiotics that may not be usable due to improper storage.
In a news release, Roth said, “DHS is responsible for ensuring it is adequately prepared to continue critical operations in the event of a pandemic.”
CNN reported examples of the wasteful spending as approximately 16 million surgical masks and about 350,000 white coverall suits bought by DHS that they could not even demonstrate a need for.
Roth’s report found that overall, the agency failed to keep adequate records of what it purchased, and even “lost” 25,000 hand sanitizers and surgical masks that cannot be accounted for.
The report stated “it is imperative that DHS be prepared to continue mission-essential operations should a pandemic occur,” even while finding that the agency didn’t have a plan on how to restock their drugs or equipment. Nor was there a system for proper inventory control to monitor expiration dates or keep track of the supplies.
The Inspector General’s Office made 11 suggestions to improve the program, which DHS agreed to implement, including assigning an office to develop an inventory control strategy and applying for a shelf-life extension from the Food and Drug Administration to extend the expiration dates on the antiviral medications expiring next year.
Roth said that the Inspector General’s Office will work with DHS “to see that this vital program is strengthened.”