Responding to a request by Congressman Bennie G. Thompson and Senator Judd Gregg, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released Thursday a report that assesses the government's and private sector's capabilities to respond to a potential outbreak of pandemic influenza. GAO's report, entitled "Influenza Pandemic: Opportunities Exist to Address Critical Infrastructure Protection Challenges That Require Federal and Private Sector Coordination" finds that federal agencies and the private sector are working together to develop guidance, identify the number of critical workers essential to operations, and conduct workshops and forums for increased preparedness.

However, the report also concludes that despite progress, both government agencies and the private sector still face several challenges in meeting the demands that would be placed on national resources and critical infrastructure in the event a pandemic flu strikes. GAO recommends that the Secretary of Homeland Security lead efforts to encourage federal agencies and the private sectors, through sector-specific and cross-sector councils, to better prepare for the challenges that will likely be experienced during a pandemic.

Congressman Bennie G. Thompson, the Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, added, "An influenza pandemic will affect all elements of our Nation's critical infrastructure, requiring that the public and private sectors work together to overcome challenges and ensure our vitality. This GAO report confirms what I have long believed, that the Department of Homeland Security must use the tools it already has at its disposal, such as the Critical Infrastructure Sector Coordinating Councils, to prepare for pandemic threats and ensure our vitality. While the Department of Homeland Security is on the right path, it's important that we not confuse motion for progress, and continue working to ensure our nation's resiliency."

Senator Gregg, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, stated, "We must not lose sight of the fact that the possibility of a pandemic is real, and we must take steps now to ensure that we will have the ability to sustain critical infrastructure, including drinking water and electricity, during such an event. It is important that we are prepared, which is why I asked GAO to assess the situation in today's report. GAO has made it clear that, while the federal government and private sector are making progress in planning, there is still much to do. It is critical that the Department of Homeland Security continue to support efforts to ensure we are properly prepared as a nation."