Will Federal Workers Be Protected in an Influenza Pandemic?

GAO was recently asked to survey 24 agencies to determine what progress they have made on protecting federal workers from an influenza pandemic.

It may sound like an unusual question, but it’s one GAO was asked to look into recently.

GAO surveyed 24 agencies to determine what progress agencies report they have made since 2009 on protecting against an influenza pandemic, identifying challenges agencies face in their preparation and the extent to which oversight of progress in preparation is being conducted.

Among GAO’s findings are the following:

  • Twenty-three of 24 federal agencies reported they had completed influenza pandemic plans that address the operational approach they would use to protect their employees in the event of an influenza pandemic. In 2009, 20 agencies reported completing such plans.
  • All 24 agencies reported that, to reduce employees’ risk of exposure to influenza, they developed policies or procedures such as telework and avoiding all unnecessary travel. In the 2009 survey, 22 agencies reported developing the former policy and 18 the latter.
  • All of the agencies reported that they planned for the distribution of hygiene supplies to protect employees whose duties require them to work onsite during an influenza pandemic. In 2009, 18 agencies reported taking this planning step.
  • Agencies reported uneven status in some key areas suggesting some additional oversight is needed. For example, only nine agencies reported they have classified all or most jobs for onsite mission essential functions by exposure risk level.

GAO said that agencies must prepare and plan to protect federal workers who are “essential to ensuring the continuity of the country’s critical operations in the event of a pandemic.”

Consequently, GAO recommended in its conclusion that DHS should provide additional oversight of agencies’ pandemic preparedness. Specifically, FEMA should be directed to include in its biennial assessments consideration of agencies’ progress in assessing exposure risk levels of occupational exposure, identifying appropriate protective measures, and establishing operational plans to provide such protections for federal workers during an influenza pandemic.

DHS concurred with the recommendations.

The full report is available on the GAO web site.

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.