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The Government's First Line of Defense Against a Pandemic: Thousands of Bottles of Expired Hand Sanitizer

"Out of 4,982 bottles, 4,184 (84 percent) are expired, some by up to 4 years."

A panel of witnesses are sworn in on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Oct. 24, 2014, prior to testifying before the House Oversight Committee hearing as lawmakers update their examination of the government's response to the Ebola outbreak. From left are, Michael Lumpkin, assistant secretary of defense for special operations, Major Gen. James Lariviere, assistant secretary of defense and deputy director for political-military affairs in Africa, John Roth, inspector General for the Homeland Security Department, Dr. Nicole Lurie, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the Health and Human Services Department, Deborah Burger, co-president of National Nurses United and Rabih Torbay, senior vice president for international operations for the International Medical Corps. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

A government official testified Friday that the Department of Homeland Security has spent millions of dollars buying supplies over the last few years to deal with a possible pandemic, but said many of those supplies are now past their expiration date, including thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer.

In a House Oversight Committee hearing on the government's response to Ebola, DHS Inspector General John Roth said DHS is stockpiling other equipment that may now be out of warranty, and said officials have failed to come up with a plan for replenishing those supplies.

John Roth (center), inspector General for the Homeland Security Department, testified with other officials on Friday, and warned that many of the supplies DHS is holding in the event of a pandemic have expired. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

"The Department's [National Capital Region] and component pandemic protective equipment stockpiles include expired hand sanitizer," Roth said in his prepared remarks at a House Oversight Committee hearing. "Out of 4,982 bottles, 4,184 (84 percent) are expired, some by up to 4 years."

The Transportation Security Administration is also holding 200,000 respirators that are "beyond the 5-year usability guaranteed by the manufacturer," he said. His data came from an audit that the OIG finished in August.

Roth said DHS failed to justify its purchases of drugs and other equipment, and may have stockpiled things that aren't useful in certain cases.

"DHS spent $6.7 million for antiviral drugs, but did not have clear and documented methodologies for determining the types and quantities of medication it should purchase," he said. "In other words, we could not determine the basis for DHS' decisions on how much or what types of pandemic preparedness supplies to purchase, store, or distribute."

He said DHS bought 350,000 coverall suits, but said there is no justification at DHS on why those suits were bought, and whether this type of suit would help in a pandemic. Roth also said 16 million surgical masks were bought, although DHS "did not demonstrate a need for that quantity of masks."

Roth also said DHS has few records outlining what it bought and where it is storied. For example, he said the DHS Office of Health Affairs sent 1,500 courses of antiviral drugs to the Secret Service, but has no records of that transfer.

"As a result, the Department may not be able to provide pandemic preparedness supplies that are adequate to continue operations during a pandemic," Roth said. "DHS did not readily know how much protective equipment it had on hand or where the equipment was being stored."

"The Department also cannot be assured that the protective equipment on hand is still effective," he concluded.

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