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An inspector general audit has found a range of problems in the program DHS crafted for prioritizing employees for vaccination against the Coronavirus at a time vaccines had just been approved and supplies were limited, and has urged that the department take steps to do better in any similar future event.

The report noted that in late 2020 as vaccines were pending FDA interim approval, DHS told its components identify “mission-critical” personnel who would get priority for vaccination. The department further partnered with the VA to administer the shots.

However, it found that the DHS “provided minimal guidance to components, resulting in inconsistent responses across the department as to which types of employees were deemed eligible,” the report said. DHS did not direct components to use an established mission-critical series code list, instead telling components to use their discretion, it said, and “as a result, the component responses varied as to which job series were considered eligible for placement in priority groups.”

“Missing and erroneous personnel data in DHS systems” caused further complications, the IG found.

Further, the department “only partially committed staff resources and delayed establishing a comprehensive, full-time task force to manage the effort . . . DHS knew in October 2020 of its intent to vaccinate some employees, yet waited until January 2021 to enlist FEMA, the DHS component best-equipped to respond to the demand for a rapid response infrastructure.”

Also some of DHS’ communications to its employees “were inconsistent or unclear, causing confusion among some employees,” it said. Some were “misleading” by implying that the program with the VA eventually would be open to all DHS employees when the in fact it applied only to those with priority status, it said – adding that even eligible employees had trouble getting shots through the VA.

The report found that although that program is now ended, “there are lessons to be learned from this effort as DHS will undoubtedly face situations again in which it needs to act quickly and decisively to identify and interact with certain groups of employees across its components.”

“DHS should establish reliable emergency protocols and should strive to communicate directly and consistently with all members of the workforce during emergency response. The department must also be able to rely on its components to provide accurate and consistent employee data, but to do so, DHS should develop criteria for that data,” it said.

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2022 Federal Employees Handbook