Report: Security agency not prepared for pandemic

WASHINGTON — For nearly a decade the Homeland Security Department has stockpiled supplies, from respirators and surgical masks to hand sanitizer and antiviral medications, in case of a pandemic. But the agency stocked up without knowing exactly what it needed and now most of the gear and medicine on hand will be unusable after next year, according to an audit by the agency’s inspector general released Monday.

Inspector General John Roth found that Homeland Security has about 300,000 vials of antiviral medications Tamiflu and Relenza, but 81 percent of the medicine will expire next year. And of the more than 4,982 bottles of hand sanitizer inspected, about 84 percent were expired, in some cases by as long as four years.

DHS has been preparing to respond to a pandemic since Congress gave the agency $47 million to help pay for training and supplies. Those supplies, including the antiviral medication, would be used for DHS personnel and others to make sure the agency could still function during a health crisis, such as the 2009 outbreak of H1N1 flu, also known as the swine flu.

But in many cases, Roth said, supplies were bought without the agency first figuring out exactly what it would need. The department also didn’t create any system to ensure that supplies were replenished.

For instance, Roth’s report said, DHS bought about 16 million surgical masks “without demonstrating a need” for that many.

And the department’s entire stockpile of respirators will be beyond “the manufacture’s date of guaranteed usability” by 2015. About 200,000 respirators delivered to the Transportation Security Administration have already expired.

Roth’s audit also concluded that Homeland Security can’t account for some of the supplies bought over the last several years.

“It did not keep records of what it purchased and received, and it has not properly accounted for (what) is currently has in stock,” the audit report said.

Homeland Security spokesman S.Y. Lee said in a statement that the department has already identified many of the issues pointed out in Roth’s audit and officials have “taken comprehensive actions to address them,” including a recall of the expired antiviral medications.

Auditors also found that a stockpile of about $5 million in antibiotics might not be usable because of how the medicine is being stored.

Homeland Security agreed with the 11 recommendations made in Roth’s report.

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