Government’s failure to keep stock of PPE reserves hurt us when we needed it most

Good commentary on the long history of government data management and use issues, brought to prominence during COVID-19, along with systemic accountability issues.

And yes, the default option for government data would be public (and to be fair, the open government initiative has resulted in more availability of data):

Seventeen years ago, there was a cabinet minister named Reg Alcock, the President of the Treasury Board, who invited people to his office for lectures about data.

The late Mr. Alcock was a hefty, 6-foot-8 mountain of a man with two main interests: Liberal Party organizing in Manitoba and dragging the government into the digital age. Part of the lecture he gave in 2004 was a question: Why is it that corporate executives have computers that can tell them, for example, how many trucks their company owns, but a prime minister would need a year to get the same answer from government?

On Wednesday, Auditor-General Karen Hogan issued a report on the government’s handling of stockpiles of PPE that let it be known that Mr. Alcock’s question is still hanging in the air, nearly two decades later.

Ms. Hogan’s team reported that the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) had a stockpile of personal protective equipment and medical devices, but it didn’t have a policy about what should be in it, or what was in it, or whether the equipment had expired.

When the biggest public-health crisis of modern times hit and provinces needed N95 masks and ventilators from the National Emergency Strategic Stockpile, well, there wasn’t enough useful stuff there. The data were so unreliable the auditors couldn’t tell how badly it fell short.

The haphazard management of the stockpile wasn’t a new thing. Internal audits in 2010 and 2013 raised those issues.

Citizens might think a decade of disregarded warnings is a scandal that will shake the halls of power in Ottawa. But for a politician, it is cause for relief. The best kind of failure is one that was going on long before you took office. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s advisers will be happy enough that the Auditor-General credited the government for responding after the crisis hit.

But note that PHAC did draft a proposal to develop a better inventory management system in January, 2020 – just as COVID-19 was spreading – but agency officials told auditors “it was put on hold because of budget constraints.”

Mr. Alcock, back in the day, didn’t just want government to get computer systems – they have a lot – but to manage data, to make more information available and usable, so that government knows better what is happening within government.

But politicians in charge aren’t good at driving change in long-term, systemic issues that voters don’t even see. Mr. Alcock, for example, was preaching for IT in a Paul Martin government busy with Liberal scandals and non-confidence votes in Parliament.

Two PMs later, and governments still have a hard time seeing what government is doing. The National Emergency Strategic Stockpile wasn’t much use in a crisis because it didn’t do the kind of information management that that happens at a grocery store: figuring out what you will need, buying it, tracking what goes in and out and what is going bad.

By now we know that bad data management, not knowing what you don’t know, raises risk in a crisis. And there’s something else: Most of that data can and should be made public.

Why not let the public see the running tally of N95 masks in inventory, or ventilators on the web? Most people won’t look at it, but perhaps a few experts in universities and elsewhere will analyze the policies, crunch the data and, we can hope, point out when they’re messed up. Or just missing. That applies to other kinds of data, too.

In Britain, this week’s remarkable testimony of Dominic Cummings, a former aide to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, about the chaotic initial response to the pandemic made it pretty clear that it’s no longer necessary, or wise, to leave the data inside government.

Mr. Cummings testified to a parliamentary committee that false assumptions, bad analysis, and groupthink inside government led Mr. Johnson’s government to a disastrous notion that it should try to reach herd immunity rather than slowing the spread of COVID-19. Scientists outside government, notably a mathematician, helped convince him that was “catastrophically wrong,” he said. He and the government’s top science adviser later agreed data should have been released earlier, to get input.

That’s not the same thing as PHAC’s failure to keep track of a stockpile. But then, if we want to encourage the government to keep tabs on the data, one good way is to demand to see it.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/politics/article-governments-failure-to-keep-stock-of-ppe-reserves-hurt-us-when-we/

German, French Officials Accuse U.S. Of Diverting Supplies

Failure on humanitarian, ethical and institutional levels.

The best comment, with respect to the US, came from Ontario Premier Doug Ford: “We’re the two largest trading partners anywhere in the world. It’s like one of your family members (says), ‘OK you go starve and we’ll go feast on the rest of the meal.’ I’m just so disappointed right now. We have a great relationship with the U.S. and they pull these shenanigans? Unacceptable.”

As the coronavirus rattles the globe, governments and aid organizations everywhere find themselves in a race to acquire scarce medical supplies and protective equipment — but some say the United States isn’t playing fair.

Earlier this week, officials in both Germany and France accused the U.S. of diverting medical supplies meant for their respective countries by outbidding the original buyers.

As of Saturday, there were more than 1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide and more than 60,000 deaths from the virus, according to a tally by researchers at Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. has the most cases globally, with Germany and France at the fourth and fifth-highest case count, respectively.

On Friday, officials in Berlin alleged that the U.S. intercepted a shipment of medical equipment in Thailand from American medical supply company 3M and diverted it to the U.S., the German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel reported. Berlin’s interior minister called the alleged interception “modern piracy.”

That same day, French officials accused the U.S. of redirecting a shipment of medical masks from Shanghai originally intended for a hard-hit French region to the U.S. by offering a much higher price for the supplies, The Guardian reported.

The accusations come as demand in the U.S. for facemasks surges, particularly after a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation that all Americans should wear cloth face coverings in public.

The U.S. has flatly denied allegations of diverting supplies from other countries. But President Trump has also tried to force American companies into prioritizing U.S. orders by invoking the Defense Production Act. On Thursday, the president used the DPA to order 3M to stop exporting hospital-grade N95 masks to Canada and Latin America, according to the company.

“We hit 3M hard today after seeing what they were doing with their Masks. ‘P Act’ all the way,” the president said in a tweet Thursday night.

On Friday morning, 3M warned of “significant humanitarian implications” of ending shipments to Canada and Latin America, saying the company is “a critical supplier of respirators.” 3M also said other countries would likely retaliate, reducing the overall number of respirators in the U.S.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau echoed warnings against halting American medical exports to Canada on Friday.

“It would be a mistake to create blockages or reduce the amount of back-and-forth trade of essential goods and services including medical goods,” the Canadian leader said.

3M CEO Mike Roman also pushed back on the president’s threats to the company. “The idea that 3M is not doing all it can to fight price gouging and unauthorized retailing is absurd,” Roman said in a CNBC interview. “The narrative that we are not doing everything we can to maximize deliveries of respirators in our home country — nothing could be further from the truth.”

With no collective global effort to distribute supplies to countries that need them most, little stands in the way of global feuding and price-gouging. The Trump administration has come under criticism for the same issue in domestic markets.

The Washington Post reported earlier this week that states with governors who are allies to the president, including Florida’s Ron DeSantis, have had little trouble getting requests filled with supplies from the national stockpile. Meanwhile, some Democratic governors have struggled to get federal help.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo have repeatedly complained that trying to get federal supplies is like the “wild west”: states must compete against one another as well as other countries, with essential supplies going to the highest bidder.

Trump blamed New York’s shortage of ventilators on the state itself for not having more respirators before the pandemic broke out.

“They should’ve had more ventilators. They were totally under-serviced,” the president said Friday. “We have a lot of states that have to be taken care of, some much more than others.”

New York state has the highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths in the country, with more than 100,000 cases of COVID-19 as of Saturday. The next closest state is New Jersey with just under 30,000 cases.

Source: German, French Officials Accuse U.S. Of Diverting Supplies