The Federal Government’s Pandemic Information-Sharing Systems

The federal government partnered with various private entities to develop systems to track pandemic-related data, from Covid-19 hospitalizations to vaccine supply. American Oversight is investigating the public-private partnerships behind these systems.

Much was said about the Trump administration’s reliance on well-connected private companies providing crucial medical equipment and supplies during the early months of the pandemic. The private sector, however, also played a major role in developing data-tracking and information-sharing systems meant to streamline crucial information at every point of the pandemic response. These systems repeatedly fell short of their stated goals, frustrating state officials and intensifying confusion. Many of them remain the tools available to the Biden administration as it attempts to patch together a disjointed pandemic response.

In July 2020, White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx upended the existing hospital data system to create “HHS Protect.” Rather than reporting Covid-19 data directly to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as hospitals had been doing since March, medical professionals were publicly directed to send data to the Department of Health and Human Services. The data was collected and aggregated by private contractors TeleTracking Technologies and Palantir, the latter of which has faced criticism for working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to track immigrants.

The new system experienced a multitude of problems and even included data that contradicted state-reported hospital data. Science magazine reported that untrustworthy numbers minimized the system’s efficacy, with one CDC source saying, “The HHS Protect data are poor quality, inconsistent with state reports, and the analysis is slipshod.” It was not until December 2020, nearly six months after its rollout, that public health experts felt HHS Protect had stabilized and was consistently relaying accurate information.

Despite those stumbling blocks, the Trump administration teamed up with Palantir again in the fall, this time to create Tiberius, a data-tracking platform that was meant to track Covid-19 vaccines from manufacturing to storage to distribution. But in February 2021, Politico reported that the system’s submission process was cumbersome and confusing, leading to long data lags and sometimes contradictory information.

The massive vaccine data-tracking effort that Tiberius was designed to monitor also raised privacy concerns. In December 2020, the New York Times reported that the CDC required states to submit personal data of those who received the Covid-19 vaccines — a practice that could discourage undocumented people from being inoculated and have broader privacy implications. Trump administration officials said personal identifiers would be removed before CDC and HHS officials could view the data, but state officials have raised concerns about sharing such information with the federal government because of uncertainty over how that information would be handled.

The CDC also contracted with Deloitte to create
the Vaccine Administration Management System, a front-facing service that was envisioned as a “one-stop shop” where individuals could schedule inoculations and state officials and clinics could report doses. ProPublica and American Oversight obtained copies of the contracts with Deloitte, including the contract signed in May for nearly $16 million and a contract signed in December for $28 million. However, state officials encountered system-wide difficulties, including randomly canceled appointments, unreliable registration, and clinic staff being locked out of the dashboard. The unreliability led to many states abandoning the system and attempting to build alternative systems, all while attempting to distribute millions of doses of vaccines. 

American Oversight is investigating these information-sharing systems and is seeking information about the private-public partnerships that created them. We’ve sent requests to HHS seeking the daily reports created by HHS Protect and have asked the CDC for contracts and update reports from Deloitte. We’re also investigating communications between state health departments and surveillance companies who offered to assist in the pandemic response. 

Updates

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September 3, 2021
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Covid-19 Oversight News: Surging Cases and More Vaccinations

August 9, 2021
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our biweekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

Covid-19 Oversight News: The Pandemic in Nursing Homes, Relief for Renters, and Cases Among Secret Service Officers

June 28, 2021
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

Covid-19 Oversight News: 600,000 U.S. Lives Lost, Disparities in Vaccinations

June 7, 2021
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

New Records Include Private Executives’ Emails with Hahn, Kushner

May 27, 2021
American Oversight has obtained new emails from 2020 in which Trump officials fielded requests from private-sector representatives, in some cases requesting assistance from top public health officials.

Covid-19 Oversight News: New Mask Guidance for Vaccinated Individuals, Scrutiny of Air Purifiers Sold to Schools, and WHO Report on Global Response

May 17, 2021
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

New Documents Show CDC Officials Dealing with Early Covid Testing Problems

April 29, 2021
American Oversight obtained more than 2,000 pages of documents from the early months of the pandemic that illustrate the CDC’s struggles to create and implement reliable Covid-19 testing.

One Year of the Coronavirus Pandemic: The Federal Response

March 24, 2021
From the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic last year, a stumbling federal response exacerbated a once-in-a-lifetime public health crisis.

Covid-19 Oversight News: Vaccines in Prisons, the Pandemic in Florida, and Oversight in Congress

March 22, 2021
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

News Roundup: New Voting-Restriction Bills and the Upcoming Round of Redistricting

February 5, 2021
The anti-democratic forces that fed Trump’s stolen-election lie are at work across the country.

Investigations Update: New Kentucky Voter Fraud Task Force Lawsuit, and Our Supreme Court Short List Investigation

September 23, 2020
See the latest in our investigations into Trump’s potential Supreme Court nominees, the CDC’s removal of updated Covid-19 guidelines, and foreign interference in U.S. elections.

Investigations Update: Trump Administration’s Occupation of Portland, CDC Hospital Data, and the Republican Convention

July 21, 2020
Our latest investigations into allegations of misconduct at the State Department, the federal occupation of U.S. cities, and the ongoing response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

News Roundup: Protecting the Right to Vote During a Pandemic

May 1, 2020
Like many things in today’s politics, mail-in voting has become a political flashpoint as the November election gets closer.
Show all updates

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