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HHS Inspector General to Investigate Whistleblower Complaint on Trump Admin’s Handling of COVID-19 Outbreak


The Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is planning several different investigations into the Trump administration’s response to the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. According to the Washington Examiner, at least five inquiries “related to HHS’s planning and response of the COVID-19 outbreak” will be conducted by the internal oversight authority.

Per that report:

The inquiries will scrutinize issues such as nationwide hospital responses, quarantine procedures, the training and protective gear provided to front-line health workers, nursing home standards amid a disease with an exponentially more deadly effect on the elderly and the already ill, and the ability to care for . . . refugees during [the] public health crisis.

Notably, one such review appears to be in response to a whistleblower complaint alleging that the initial White House response effort exposed government personnel to the sometimes-deadly contagion before sending those same employees across the country on civilian airliners.

Law&Crime previously reported on those whistleblower allegations in late February. The whistleblower’s claim is that when she and other public health experts complained to their relevant superiors up the chain of command, they were reassigned, retaliated against, and threatened with termination.

“OIG will evaluate how HHS staff were deployed, trained, and protected when assigned tasks that could entail potential exposure to COVID-19, such as work at quarantine sites and at ports of entry,” the review work plan focused on the whistleblower’s complaint notes. “We will analyze steps taken to protect HHS staff and, in turn, the public, during pre-deployment, deployment, and post-deployment.”

“We will also review the extent to which HHS has established mechanisms to identify and correct any vulnerabilities in deployment protocols. We plan to issue multiple work products reporting findings for the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Department overall.”

News of the the HHS OIG’s multiple investigations was met with praise by legal experts.

“There is a clear need here for an IG review given the fumbled rollout of the government’s response to the pandemic,” national security attorney Bradley P. Moss told Law&Crime via email, “starting from slow realization by the White House to the scope of the problem, later failures to have necessary testing kits and emergency medical supplies ready for deployment and eventually the continued spread of the disease and terrible loss of life that could have been minimized with proper planning.”

Former federal prosecutor and current Westchester County District Attorney candidate Mimi Rocah also lauded the move–but insisted it doesn’t quite go far enough.

“This is clearly a good initial step that needs to happen,” she said via email. “But, when this is all over there needs to a Congressional Task Force or Commission to look at all the different ways this crisis was mishandled.”

Additional investigations will focus on HHS and other affiliated agencies’ response efforts after the Coronavirus pandemic firmly took root in the United States.

“This review will highlight relevant issues from OIG’s body of work on emergency preparedness and response to inform HHS’s ongoing COVID-19 response efforts,” the HHS OIG emergency preparedness work plan notes. “This work product will synthesize key findings and recommendations from this body of work to inform and assist HHS in its ongoing response efforts.”

The hospital response work plan offers even more details:

This study will provide insights from hospital administrators about hospital needs and concerns in diagnosing and treating patients with the COVID-19. We will interview administrators from a sample of approximately 400 hospitals nationwide regarding their hospitals’ needs to diagnose and treat patients with COVID-19, as well as other emergency preparedness and response issues, including ensuring the availability of personal protective equipment for hospital staff. The sample of hospitals includes a range of hospital types, sizes, and locations, including rural and critical access hospitals. The results of this study will provide HHS operating and staff divisions with timely feedback on how they can support hospitals in responding to COVID-19.

OIG Principal Deputy Inspector General Christi A. Grimm will lead the broad investigative effort, according to the Examiner.

[image via Drew Angerer/Getty Images]

Editor’s note: this article has been amended post-publication to include an additional quote.

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