US Officials Should Strengthen Their Ability to Respond to TB Incidents
By: Jim Kouri, CPP
In spring 2007, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and state and local health officials worked together to interdict two individuals with drug-resistant infectious tuberculosis (TB) from crossing U.S. borders and direct them to treatment.
Concerns arose that HHS’s and DHS’s responses to the incidents were delayed and ineffective. The Government Accountability Office was asked to examine the factors that affected HHS’s and DHS’s responses to the incidents, as well as the extent to which HHS and DHS made changes to response procedures as a result of the incidents. GAO analysts were also asked to examine HHS’s and DHS’s efforts to assess the effectiveness of changes made as a result of the incidents. GAO reviewed agency documents and interviewed officials about the procedures in place at the time of the incidents and changes made since.
Various factors — a lack of comprehensive procedures for information sharing and coordination and border inspection shortfalls — hindered the federal response to the two TB incidents. GAO’s past work and federal internal control standards call for collaborative communication and coordination across agencies; communication flowing down, across, and up agencies to help managers carry out their internal control responsibilities; and effective leadership, capabilities, and accountability to ensure effective preparedness and response to hazardous situations.
HHS and DHS finalized a memorandum of understanding in October 2005 intended to promote communication and coordination in response to public health incidents, but they had not fully developed operational procedures to share information and coordinate their efforts. Thus, HHS and DHS lost time locating or identifying the individuals to interdict them at the U.S. border. Also, HHS lacked procedures to coordinate with state and local health officials to determine when to use federal isolation and quarantine authorities, which further contributed to the delay in the federal response to one of the incidents.
Finally, DHS had deficiencies in its process for inspecting individuals at the border, which caused delays in locating the individuals with TB. HHS and DHS have subsequently implemented procedures and tools intended to address deficiencies identified by the incidents, consistent with GAO’s past work and internal control standards, but the departments could take additional steps to enhance their ability to respond to future TB incidents.
Since the 2007 incidents, HHS and DHS have developed formal procedures for HHS to request DHS’s assistance, and DHS has (1) developed a watch list for airlines to identify individuals with TB and other infectious diseases who are to be stopped from traveling and (2) revised its border inspection process to include a requirement that individuals with TB identified by HHS be subject to further inspection.
DHS has also enhanced its process for creating public health alerts based on some variations of biographic information (e.g., name, date of birth, or travel document information), but has not explored the benefits of creating these alerts based on other variations, which impeded DHS’s ability to interdict one of the individuals at the border.
In addition, HHS has not yet completed efforts to provide information on changes in procedures to state and local health officials, who typically originate requests for assistance, to help mitigate delays in accessing federal assistance. HHS and DHS identified additional actions that need to be taken to further strengthen their response, but have not developed plans for completing them. HHS and DHS have activities under way to assess the effectiveness of the new procedures and tools, including performance monitoring and cross-agency meetings to discuss and revise the new procedures and tools based on actual experiences.
HHS and DHS have coordinated on more than 70 requests for assistance since the 2007 incidents through February 2008; officials said they view each incident as a test of the efficacy of their responses.
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police and he’s a staff writer for the New Media Alliance (thenma.org). In addition, he’s the new editor for the House Conservatives Fund’s weblog. Kouri also serves as political advisor for Emmy and Golden Globe winning actor Michael Moriarty.
He’s former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed “Crack City” by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for several major organizations. He’s also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. Kouri writes for many police and security magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer and others. He’s a news writer for TheConservativeVoice.Com and PHXnews.com. He’s also a columnist for AmericanDaily.Com, MensNewsDaily.Com, MichNews.Com, and he’s syndicated by AXcessNews.Com. He’s appeared as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. His book Assume The Position is available at Amazon.Com. Kouri’s own website is located at http://jimkouri.us
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police and he's a columnist for The Examiner (examiner.com) and New Media Alliance (thenma.org). In addition, he's a blogger for the Cheyenne, Wyoming Fox News Radio affiliate KGAB (www.kgab.com). Kouri also serves as political advisor for Emmy and Golden Globe winning actor Michael Moriarty. He's former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed "Crack City" by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for several major organizations. He's also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. Kouri writes for many police and security magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer and others. He's a news writer and columnist for AmericanDaily.Com, MensNewsDaily.Com, MichNews.Com, and he's syndicated by AXcessNews.Com. Kouri appears regularly as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Fox News Channel, Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, etc. To subscribe to Kouri's newsletter write to COPmagazine@aol.com and write "Subscription" on the subject line.