U.S. Moves Pandemic Data Tracking to CDC, Reversing Trump
(Bloomberg) -- The Biden administration is moving the U.S. government’s largest public-health tracking system back to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, undoing a much-criticized move by the Trump administration to shift custody of critical data from the nation’s top epidemiological agency.
According to a document obtained by Bloomberg News, the Department of Health and Human Services on Oct. 1 signed off on a recommendation to move the system, designed to track pandemic data, out of the management of its own Office of the Chief Information Officer and into CDC’s oversight. The shift comes in the wake of scrutiny over the federal government’s handling of public health data infrastructure, and is intended to ensure long-term stability and ownership of the data system.
Designed under the Trump administration through a contract with Palantir Technologies Inc., the system, called HHS Protect, monitors real-time data from federal, state and local sources to track the needs of the American health-care system. Co-founded by billionaire Peter Thiel, Palantir has numerous deals with government agencies, including the National Nuclear Security Administration, the Coast Guard and the Federal Aviation Administration.
The platform pulls information from more than 6,000 hospitals on Covid-19 cases and vaccination rates as well as the use of intensive-care unit beds, testing, vaccines, therapeutics and personal protective equipment. With more than 500,000 data points per day, often down to the facility level, HHS Protect has helped federal health officials across both administrations determine where supplies should be allocated. It’s also been made available to non-government entities via the HHS Protect Public Data Hub.
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In July 2020, the Trump administration directed hospitals to send data to HHS instead of the CDC, raising concern among some health experts who said the information would be better used by seasoned epidemiologists. Other data trackers, however, have suggested the HHS-run system later stabilized and has become an increasingly reliable tool for pandemic response.
The White House Covid-19 data director and relevant HHS staff and operating divisions have had “significant conversations about this course of action and are largely aligned with the path forward,” according to the document.
The White House, HHS and CDC didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. The CDC sits within HHS.
In late September, AJ Pearlman, the chief of staff for the U.S. Covid-19 response, sent a letter to HHS Deputy Secretary Andrea Palm requesting that HHS Protect, along with two other systems known as TeleTracking and OptumServe, have their management, governance and funding source shifted within HHS. TeleTracking will be moved to the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response.
HHS Protect services and licenses expired on Oct. 12, according to the document, granting HHS the opportunity to “revisit which entity should manage these contracts going forward,” Pearlman said in the letter. Now, there will be a transition period in which new contracts will be signed, and the contract ownership and data systems themselves will move from the Office of the Chief Information Office to the CDC.
“This is a step toward ensuring that we have the resources (both human and financial) necessary to support ongoing data collection and drive programmatic decision-making,” Pearlman said in the letter.
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