HHS’ OIG to Scrutinize HHS COVID-19 Response and Recovery Efforts

The HHS’ Office of Inspector General (OIG) has published a strategic plan for oversight of the COVID-19 response and recovery efforts of the Department of Health and Human Services.

OIG will assess how well the HHS has performed in its mission to ensure the health and safety of Americans, determine whether HHS systems and data have been adequately protected, evaluate the effectiveness of the HHS response, and assess whether the $251 billion in COVID-19 funding has been correctly distributed by the HHS.

OIG has a mandate to oversee the activities of the HHS to promote the economy, efficiency, effectiveness, and integrity of HHS programs. OIG explained that “COVID-19 has created unprecedented challenges for the HHS and for the delivery of health care and human services to the American people.” Through audits, risk assessments, and data analytics, OIG will be assessing the HHS’s COVID-19 response and recovery efforts.

The HHS has a responsibility to protect the health and safety of Americans during a public health emergency such as the COVID-19 pandemic and protect beneficiaries that receive services through the HHS health care and human services programs. OIG will be providing the HHS with assistance and will support the HHS’s ongoing COVID-19 response efforts and will assist in fighting fraud and scams that endanger HHS beneficiaries and the public.

OIG will be investigating cases of fraud and will be working closely with law enforcement to protect the public and HHS beneficiaries. OIG will also assess the effectiveness and impact of HHS programs on the health and safety of the public and beneficiaries through audits and evaluations, including the acquisition, management, and distribution of resources from the Strategic National Stockpile, production, approval, and distribution of COVID-19 tests; vaccine and treatment research and development, and HHS health care and human services programs.

OIG’s oversight and enforcement activities include protecting HHS funds from fraud, waste and abuse and promoting transparency and accountability of HHS spending. In May 2020, $251 billion was made available to the HHS for COVID-19 response and recovery. OIG will be assessing whether that funding has been paid out in accordance with program requirements, determining whether recipients of funds met use and reporting requirements, and will investigate and fight fraud and abuse that has diverted COVID-19 funding from its intended purposes.

Cyberattacks against the HHS and healthcare organizations have increased considerably during the COVID-19 pandemic, and nation-states have been attempting to obtain sensitive data and intellectual property in relating to SARS-CoV-2 and the COVID-19 response. OIG explained that technologies that have been employed as part of the COVID-19 response could be targeted by threat actors to gain access to sensitive data. It is therefore essential that HHS IT infrastructure is properly protected, and vulnerabilities are proactively identified and addressed.

OIG will be assessing the capabilities of the HHS for detecting and mitigating IT vulnerabilities, will be conducting audits to determine whether vulnerabilities have been mitigated, and will investigate cybersecurity threats and attacks on HHS systems. OIG will provide assistance to the HHS to support a secure and robust infrastructure.

OIG will also be investigating the effectiveness of the HHS’s COVID-19 response and recovery programs and will identify opportunities to increase effectiveness and help ensure recipients of HHS COVID-19 response and recovery funding achieve the program goals. Successful practices and lessons learned during the COVID-19 response and recovery will be used to strengthen HHS programs in the future and improve preparedness planning for future public health emergencies.

Author: Steve Alder has many years of experience as a journalist, and comes from a background in market research. He is a specialist on legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA. Steve holds a B.Sc. from the University of Liverpool.