Biden’s Pandemic Testing Board Has Done Little to Nothing Since Its Creation

While President Joe Biden was running for office, he said that to beat the coronavirus, the U.S. needed the testing equivalent of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s War Production Board.

The board was sweeping powers to shift the country’s economy to support the war effort, and it ultimately oversaw a reported 40% of the world’s munition productionDuring World War II.

“It’s how we produced tanks, planes, uniforms, and supplies in record time,” the Biden campaign website said. “And it’s how we can produce and distribute tens of millions of tests.”

Biden signed the following day, one day after his inauguration an executive orderThe Pandemic Testing Board was established. He said he would be putting the “full force of the federal government” behind expanding testing.

A year later, though, it’s remarkably hard to tell what the board has done.

The group has not issued any press releases, held no hearings or made any announcements, as far as we know. Biden’s executive order states that the head of the board would be, or be chosen by, the White House’s head of COVID-19 response. That’s Jeffrey Zients, but when we contacted him, he didn’t respond.

When we asked White House officials about the Pandemic Testing Board — who was on it and what actions it had taken — they declined to answer our questions and pointed us to the Department of Health and Human Services.

That agency did respond to our inquiries about the board, but its answers offered few details about the board’s work. It did not provide details about the composition of the panel or the decisions it made.

“The Pandemic Testing Board serves as the forum where agencies across the federal government which are involved in testing can describe emerging challenges and what they are learning,” the agency said. “It provides a mechanism for addressing policy and implementation issues regarding the supply and distribution of tests, as well as increasing access to and affordability of tests in the community.”

The agency’s full statementIt is also noted that the board met regularly and was split into two groups, one focusing on test supply and one on testing policies.

Public health experts told us they, too, hadn’t heard much about the board.

“I had assumed that they jettisoned these plans,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist and professor at Johns Hopkins University. “If it still exists, it is certainly very low profile,” said Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University. The country’s first coronavirus testing czar, Adm. Brett Giroir, said he knew little about it as well. “It is rumored to have met, but I did not see public disclosure or reports from the meetings.”

However, the inner workings a board is less important than whether it is doing the job. But ProPublica detailed in November, the Biden administration has been slow to roll out wider testing — just what the board was created to do.

In October, White House officials reportedly disregardedIn anticipation of a spike in COVID-19 during the holidays, testing experts have proposed that rapid tests be sent directly to Americans. Jen Psaki, press secretary infamously dismissed the ideaIn a December briefing

Later that month, the Biden administration declared it would send direct tests to Americans. The tests arrive just as the omicron wave recedes, and critics claim that the effort is not effective. shortchanges communities of color.

“I think it’s damn well about time,” said David Paltiel, a professor of public health at Yale University. “It’s never too late, but some of us have been screaming and yelling about the idea for more than 18 months.”

There was ample money available to expand testing. As part of last year’s stimulus package, Congress appropriated nearly $48 billion for testing, contact tracing and other efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This is in addition to the $48 billion that was set aside for testing in 2020.

But just like with the board’s activities, details about where exactly the money has gone have been hard to come by. Since the Biden administration hadn’t released a breakdown, we submitted a request for specifics more than two months ago.

Sens. Richard Burr, R-N.C.,And Roy Blunt, R-Mo.,Sent a letter on Jan. 3requesting similar information. After Burr’s office shared what it had learned, the BidenAdministration sent ProPublica a one-page rundown of COVID-19 spendingLast week.

There have been $10 billion allocated for testing in schools; $9 billion for manufacturing supplies; almost $5 billion for testing individuals who are not insured; and more than $4Billion for mitigation and testing for high-risk groups. Nearly $3.9B was spent on community testing at pharmacies and federally-qualified health centers. $2.9B went to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for expanding testing capacities and labs. More than $1.9B has been spent on COVID-19 testing unaccompanied minors at U.S.-Mexico borders. About $3.6 billion is listed as simply “activities previously planned for PPPHCEA,” a reference to the 2020 Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act. An additional $1.5 million was awarded to the Indian Health Service. A further $4.4 billion allocation is still pending.

Mara Aspinall is an Arizona State University professor who advises the Rockefeller Foundation on COVID-19 testing. She has been following HHS press releases to find out how the stimulus funds were spent since the numbers are not publically disclosed. She said testing should have been more of a focus since the beginning of the pandemic, but there’s still plenty left to do.

“There are a lot of indications that the federal government and state governments are understanding the power of the information that tests bring,” she said. “But what we can’t repeat is the error of last spring thinking it was over and therefore not continuing to focus.”