U.S. faulted over failure to nab TB travelers

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government has failed to fix all the coordination problems among agencies that helped two men with a drug-resistant form of tuberculosis elude border security in 2007, investigators said on Thursday.

The Government Accountability Office said the departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services have made changes following incidents involving Atlanta lawyer Andrew Speaker and Mexican traveler Amado Isidro Armendariz Amaya.

But the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, said the two departments need to do more to ensure they work together effectively to track down certain travelers.

“GAO tells us what we have long suspected and urgently have sought to improve, and that is basic communications among federal government agencies is essential to protect Americans from potential terrorists, natural disasters and outbreaks of disease,” said independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee chairman.

Speaker triggered an international health scare by flying to and from Europe for his wedding and honeymoon with a hard-to-treat form of TB, and then entering the United States from Canada, eluding U.S. health officials.

The Mexican traveler flew undetected across the border 21 times despite warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to U.S. border officials that he also had drug-resistant TB.

GAO investigators said procedures for sharing information and coordinating between the two departments were not fully developed, undermining the effort to locate the two travelers.

HHS lacked procedures to coordinate with state and local health officials, the GAO added.

“Educating state and local health officials could help prevent delays in accessing federal assistance and ensure that new procedures and tools informing them how to access this assistance are used appropriately. Such education is especially important since state and local health officials are usually the first to become aware of TB cases,” the report said.

(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Maggie Fox)

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