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Coronavirus Roundup: Report Finds ‘Gross Inequity’ in Pandemic Contracts, White House to Redirect WHO Dues

There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.

From March to the end of August, minority-run businesses were awarded only about 11% of contracts of the government’s 53,000 coronavirus contract obligations, according to a new report by the watchdog group Accountable.US shared exclusively with Government Executive

“From death rates to business closures to unemployment, communities of color have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic, yet the Trump administration has done little to help the situation,” said Kyle Herrig, Accountable.US president. “The gross inequity businesses owned by people of color face with the awarding of federal contracts mirrors the administration’s mismanagement of the [Paycheck Protection Program] that denied access to the vast majority of Black-owned small businesses.” He called for Congress to investigate the contracting process and explore ways it can be made more equitable.

A FEMA spokesperson said the agency, one of the top pandemic contract spenders, follows federal acquisition requirements in awarding contracts: “FEMA contracting officers are empowered to promote competition to the maximum extent practicable, as well as maximize the use of commercial products and services in determining an appropriate acquisition approach. Factors considered in making this determination can include, but are not limited to, the amount of sources in the marketplace, the ability to reach sources in exigent and emergency circumstances, and the ability to obtain the required goods and services within required timeframes based on fair and reasonable prices given existing circumstances.”

Here are some other recent headlines you  might have missed. 

The Trump administration temporarily halted evictions through the end of the year. The policy will take effect on Friday when a directive from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is published in the Federal Register. Despite the “best efforts” from federal, state and local governments, “COVID-19 continues to spread and further action is needed,” said the order. “In the context of a pandemic, eviction moratoria—like quarantine, isolation, and social distancing—can be an effective public health measure utilized to prevent the spread of communicable disease.” 

The CDC told governors last week to be ready to distribute a coronavirus vaccine by November 1—two days before the presidential election. CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield told the governors to expedite applications for distribution sites, assuring them “the requirements you may be asked to waive … will not compromise the safety or integrity of the products being distributed,” McClatchy reported on Wednesday. This raised concerns about the administration’s already-ambitious timeline for “Operation Warp Speed.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Reps. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., and. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., introduced a bill on Thursday that would establish programs at the CDC to study the public health impacts of systemic racism and police violence. “For far too long, our federal government has failed to recognize and address the structural racism that has devastated Black and brown communities and denied access to quality health care,” an issue that is exacerbated by the pandemic, said Pressley. 

On Wednesday, another Food and Drug Administration communications official was removed from his role. John “Wolf” Wagner was FDA’s associate commissioner for external affairs for only two months. He was reassigned to a position in the Health and Human Service Department’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, Politico reported on Wednesday. This comes just days after two other top communications officials were removed following FDA’s release of misleading and erroneous information about the agency’s emergency authorization of convalescent plasma to treat COVID-19.

On Thursday morning, White House Trade Adviser Peter Navarro tweeted that seniors are most at risk “from China Virus” and shared a link to research on how the drugs hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin can be effective as treatment. He blamed the “never Trump” news media for creating “hydroxy-hysteria.” However, the research article he shared noted: “This is a preprint. Preprints are preliminary reports that have not undergone peer review. They should not be considered conclusive, used to inform clinical practice, or referenced by the media as validated information.”

The Trump administration will redirect $62 million of the $120 million in dues it owes the World Health Organization, the State Department announced on Wednesday. Trump has been extremely critical of the WHO for being “China-centric” during the onset of the pandemic and in July notified the United Nations that the United States would begin the process to formally withdraw from the organization.

Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Bob Menendez, D-N.J.; and Tom Carper, D-Del., sent letters to 21 U.S. embassies on Wednesday about ensuring the three million Americans overseas eligible to vote are able to do so amid the pandemic and mail delays. They asked the embassies to share their plans and procedures for handling the voting process.  

On Wednesday, the Treasury Department inspector general published a dictionary of terms to assist with coronavirus relief funds reporting. The IG explained each data element, definition, reporting form, whether it’s required or not and any additional comments. 

Five Defense Department sites are hosting the critical phase-three trials for multinational pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine. “The Department of Defense continues to play a key role in the development of a potential COVID-19 vaccine,” said Tom McCaffery, assistant secretary of Defense for health affairs. “Now that vaccines have passed the first phases of testing for safety, dosing and response, we are ready to move into the next phase where volunteers are needed to join large clinical studies. We are excited to have several sites identified to support the next steps in the vaccine development process.”  

Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode discusses how the Trump administration’s payroll tax deferral will affect federal employees. 

Help us understand the situation better. Are you a federal employee, contractor or military member with information, concerns, etc. about how your agency is handling the coronavirus? Email us at newstips@govexec.com.

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