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GAO Report Cites Equipment Shortages in COVID-19 Response

Washington Report

Shortages of protective equipment and incomplete data on COVID-19 cases were two of the biggest shortcomings identified in a new report looking at the ongoing response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Government Accountability Agency released the report last month, detailing the months-long federal response.

The National Guard has played a key role in that response, with about 18,000 Guardsmen remaining on duty as of its release. Their missions have included COVID-19 testing, infection control and food distribution, among others.

According to the GAO, the Guard received approximately $1.5 billion in additional funding for personnel and operations expenses during the pandemic through the CARES Act. But the Guard was unlikely to use all of that funding before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

As of July 31, the Guard had obligated more than $98.2 million and expended more than $36.1 million. The Defense Department identified more than $900 million of the Guard funding that would be available to be transferred to other accounts for COVID-19-related activities.

Originally, Congress asked that any excess funding be used to support state and local virus-fighting efforts. But DoD officials determined they have no authority to provide support to those entities on a non-reimbursable basis.

“Of the $1.2 billion appropriated to the National Guard personnel accounts, $506.9 million is available for transfer from the Army National Guard personnel account and $270.7 million is available from the Air National Guard personnel account,” according to the report. The remaining $451 million would be used for Guard screenings and tests, as well as manpower to receive and issue personal protective equipment.