This fall, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) stated that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have not made significant progress in responding to health care and environmental health crises since the emergence of the W.W. II coronavirus (or SARS) in 2003. One of the most pressing reasons for the GSA’s evaluation — and CDC and USAID’s failure to meet those goals — is their lack of coordination across the federal government.
In their fiscal 2020 draft report, published today, the GSA and the Government Operations Committee (GOC) of the Senate Appropriations Committee recommend that the new Senate Congress allocate funds for a new Interagency Collaboration Branch of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (PHSC). This branch will be established under the umbrella of CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases (NCEZ), and its full name will be Public Health Emergency Operational Response and Emergencias. A collaboration branch would direct the work of CDC, USAID, NCEZ, and other federal agencies involved in public health in responding to public health emergencies.
The joint study, titled “Public Health Emergencias: A Public Health Emergencies Bureau at the CDC and NCEZ,” finds that there is a lack of financial resources and collaboration that is hindering the CDC’s and USAID’s efforts to combat health and environmental crises. This is reflected in the findings of previous GAO reviews from 2017 and 2018.
The GAO reviewed issues ranging from the level of Federal funding available to respond to health and environmental crises to the way the CDC and USAID manage conflicts between their agencies and regional interests. To accomplish this, the GAO proposed that both agencies establish a “well-trained and knowledgeable functional staff,” as well as build a knowledge base “spanning scientific and technical expertise in order to enable robust public health response.”
The joint GSA-GOC proposal also urges “[p]rivate industry partnerships with public and nongovernmental health professionals to share, protect, and disseminate critical health information to all Americans during health crises.”
Until now, responding to threats from the SARS virus and other infectious diseases posed by suspected or confirmed outbreaks has been largely the domain of the CDC, the GOC wrote in the proposal.
“The challenges in responding to the sudden and virulent spread of infectious diseases underscore the limited funding available to CDC to meet the needs of CDC public health emergency response efforts,” it continued. “This gap must be filled in order to ensure that the U.S. public health system is able to meet the unmet needs of Americans experiencing health concerns, and to respond effectively to emerging risks to public health.”
The proposal asks that the Senate Committee consider the expanded role of the public health emergency response bureau when setting the final Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittees’ budget recommendations for fiscal 2020.
In a statement, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, applauded the report and emphasized that working together, CDC and USAID should be a go-to response team for all Americans who are affected by outbreaks and crises.
“As our nation faces an onslaught of infectious diseases, the Congress needs to provide the funds necessary to modernize our global health infrastructure and provide one strong voice in a global health crises,” Warner said. “CDC has a proven record of responding to outbreaks in a timely and effective manner. Partnerships among public health organizations and the private sector are important ways to help the government improve health for Americans. This proposal lays out a set of recommendations for CDC and USAID to build on existing and emerging capabilities.”