Since May 2020, federal efforts to speed the development, manufacturing, and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines—previously known as Operation Warp Speed and renamed the HHS-DOD COVID-19 Countermeasures Acceleration Group (CAG)—have been led by the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Defense (DOD). HHS took over sole responsibility for the work at the beginning of 2022.
But the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says it is currently unclear whether HHS is ready to fully assume all responsibilities, especially those formerly led by DOD.
HHS and DOD officials told GAO they have achieved transition milestones indicating that HHS is ready to assume responsibilities formerly led by DOD, but the government watchdog said it is unclear how HHS will address its workforce needs now that the CAG has dissolved.
GAO found that HHS has assessed its workforce capabilities, but lacks strategies for addressing these workforce needs. By formally providing its support until HHS develops and implements these strategies, GAO says DOD can help ensure that HHS can continue these responsibilities uninterrupted, including responsibilities for addressing ongoing vaccine needs for boosters or for any emerging COVID-19 variants. Moreover, GAO’s review found that HHS does not have a schedule that is consistent with best practices to help it manage remaining vaccine-related activities.
GAO notes that CAG developed a plan for conducting a joint, interagency lessons-learned review. This plan outlines an approach for collecting information—such as perspectives on challenges—from CAG staff, and for sharing the plan with HHS. However, the plan misses an opportunity to gather perspectives from key external stakeholders, including vaccine companies, critical to developing vaccines, according to GAO.
The watchdog made five recommendations in its report which was published on January 19. These relate to workforce needs, scheduling best practices for vaccine-related activities; and lessons learned from key stakeholders.