As dedicated CDD readers may remember, one of President Biden’s big COVID-19 promises was the creation of a “Nationwide Pandemic Dashboard” that would be a central hub for all the information Americans needed to see how the pandemic was progressing in their communities.
The Biden administration sees the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker as that dashboard and plans to continue improving it as time goes on, White House COVID-19 Data Director Cyrus Shahpar said in an interview with The Center for Public Integrity last month. But a new report from the Government Accountability Office suggests that the CDC’s tracker has a long way to go before it becomes the centralized system that Americans need.
The Government Accountability Office, or GAO, is a federal watchdog agency that evaluates other federal agencies on behalf of Congress. Its full report, released last Wednesday, is over 500 pages of problems and recommendations, ranging from the Emergency Use Authorization process to health care for veterans.
But, as COVID Tracking Project leader Erin Kissane pointed out on Twitter, there are some real data bangers starting in the appendix:
Here are a few of those data bangers:
- Recommending that the federal government provides more comprehensive data on who gets a COVID-19 vaccine. The GAO specifically wants to see more data on race and ethnicity, so that the public can gauge how well vaccination efforts are reaching more vulnerable demographic groups. The agency also notes the challenge of finding occupational data on vaccinations, something we’ve bemoaned before at the CDD.
- Calling out the lack of public awareness for federal data. Some experts the GAO interviewed noted that “the public may be more aware of non-federal sources of data on COVID-19 indicators (e.g., the COVID Tracking Project, Johns Hopkins) than sources from the federal government,” in part because those non-federal sources started providing public data earlier in 2020. The federal agencies need to step up their communications game.
- Stating the need for central access to federal data. The GAO describes how the HHS lacks a central, public-facing COVID-19 data website, while the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker fails to provide access to the full suite of information available from the HHS. Specific missing data pages include COVID-19 health indicators and vaccine adverse events.
Overall, the GAO says, the agency recommends that “HHS make its different sources of publicly available COVID-19 data accessible from a centralized location on the internet.” One would think this is a pretty straightforward recommendation to follow, but HHS reportedly “neither agreed nor disagreed” with the assessment.
While there’s a lot more to dig into from this report, it is only part of a long evaluation process to improve federal data collection and reporting. The new report is part of a GAO effort that started last March, reports POLITICO’s Sarah Owermohle:
The latest report is part of nearly yearlong effort by GAO to track the federal pandemic response after a directive in the March 2020 CARES Act. The watchdog first called on CDC to “completely and consistently collect demographic data” including comprehensive results on long-term health outcomes across race and ethnicity, in September. It later criticized the government’s lack of “consistent and complete COVID-19 data” in a January report.
I, for one, am excited to see what the GAO does next—and how the federal public health agencies respond.