The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has collected data from Congress-established tribal epidemiology centers (TEC) to provide public health support for American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN). However, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that 12 centers had varying access to HHS’ data.
According to GAO, some of TECs had access to HHS’ COVID-19 vaccination data, while others did not. GAO recommends that HHS clarify the data it makes available to these centers.
TEC officials that spoke with GAO described challenges accessing some CDC and Indian Health Service (IHS) data, as well, such as an inability to access certain CDC data on infectious diseases and other conditions.
“TECs used available epidemiological data to monitor the spread of COVID-19 and to conduct other analyses that support public health decision-making in AI/AN communities,” GAO wrote in a new report. “However, TEC officials told GAO that their access to data influences the analyses they are able to conduct, and that a lack of access can limit their ability to provide AI/AN communities with meaningful information needed for decision-making.”
GAO notes that a number of factors have impeded TEC’s access to HHS data, including: a lack of policies affirming TEC’s authority to access HHS data, and a lack of guidance for TECs on how to request data, and agency procedures on how to respond to such requests.
GAO made five recommendations, which were all agreed to by HHS, including:
- HHS should develop a policy that clarify HHS that are available to TECs as required by Federal law;
- CDC should develop written guidance for TECs on how to request data and should include information on data potentially available to TECs, how to request data, agency contacts, criteria the agency will use to review such requests, and time frames for receiving an agency response to data requests;
- CDC should develop and document agency procedures on reviewing TEC requests for making data available to TECs;
- IHS should develop written guidance for TECs on how to request such data; and
- IHS should also develop and document agency procedures on reviewing TEC requests for making data available to TECs.