Data management issues hurt FEMA's PPE distribution in early pandemic, inspector general report says

Data management issues hurt the Federal Emergency Management Agency's handling of distribution of personal protective equipment during the early days of the pandemic, according to a report obtained by NBC News

The report, which has yet to be released, was written by Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Joseph Cuffari, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump. NBC News said Aug. 5 it had obtained a draft of the report. 

Mr. Cuffari says in the report that PPE struggles early in the pandemic were the fault of data management problems within FEMA, rather than issues within the White House's COVID-19 task force. 

"The magnitude of the global event exposed weaknesses in FEMA's resource request system and allocation processes. Specifically, WebEOC — the system FEMA used to process PPE and ventilator resource requests — contained unreliable data to inform allocation decisions and ensure requests were accurately adjudicated," the report states, according to NBC News. "In addition, although FEMA developed a process to allocate the limited supply of ventilators, it did not have a similar process for PPE."

But NBC News reported last year that White House COVID-19 task force officials often circumvented FEMA's decision-making and distributed ventilators, PPE and government contracts to favored states and companies.  

Mr. Cuffari's report claims that states and private entities requesting aid from FEMA were often unaware of how decisions were made and that FEMA was unable to accurately track requests. 

"FEMA can improve its current and future pandemic response operations by documenting and communicating its decision-making process for the allocation of critical medical supplies and resources. Without such documentation, FEMA will continue to face stakeholder allegations that PPE allocation decisions are inconsistent and lack transparency," the report states, according to NBC News

The inspector general made three recommendations for FEMA: 

  1. Enhance the reliability of its data by developing internal controls for WebEOC to prevent incomplete, inaccurate and duplicate information from being entered into the system, and make sure users get better training.

  2. Formally document how decisions are made for resource allocation of critical life-saving supplies and equipment.

  3. Do a better job of defining its and HHS' roles when it comes to responding to a pandemic. 

The draft of the report obtained by NBC News doesn't include a response from FEMA on the inspector general's findings. 

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