Coronavirus Roundup: White House Asks for More COVID Funding, Again
There’s a lot to keep track of. Here’s a list of this week’s news updates and stories you may have missed.
After issuing a co-working spaces contract to WeWork and several other companies last year, as the federal workplace culture evolves in wake of the pandemic, this past week, the General Services Administration made available free coworking spaces for federal employees in the District of Columbia, Denver, and San Francisco to try out The Yard, Expansive, and WeWork.
“Commercial coworking is one of a suite of offerings that GSA is piloting to help agencies adapt to hybrid work, while continuing to meet their mission and deliver for their customers better than ever before,” a GSA spokesperson said. This is also part of the process to “continue to right size the federal real estate footprint under GSA’s jurisdiction, custody, or control.”
Although this responds to the current situation, the contract has been in the works since late 2019. Daniel Mathews, head of federal sales at WeWork who previously served as GSA’s Public Building Service commissioner, said for the past 20 years the federal government has been buying flexible workspace, but it’s been “sporadic and ad hoc.”
The recent indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract is an “extra tool in the government's toolkit for realigning their office space portfolio,” he said. “I think it's really encouraging that GSA is innovating and looking for ways to help show agencies that there is an alternative solution to solving their problems and really experiencing the value propositions for agencies, for their employees and taxpayers on a much faster schedule than if they just tried to do it with the normal solutions.” Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed.
In launching his third bid for the presidency on Tuesday night, President Trump said, “We will abolish every Biden COVID mandate and rehire every patriot who was fired from our military with an apology and full back then.” The Biden administration’s COVID vaccine mandate for federal employees and contractors are currently not being forced due to legal challenges, but the one for the military is.
The majority on the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis recapped in a tweet on Wednesday its findings over the past several months on the Trump administration’s “mishandling” of the pandemic. “Among [the] findings, Trump officials: advanced a herd immunity via mass infection strategy before a vaccine was available; pressured [the Food and Drug Administration] to reauthorize [hydroxychloroquine] as treatment for COVID-19; [and] interfered in [the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s] pandemic response and altered public health guidance.”
House Republicans, who now control the House, are considering shutting down the select committee or making changes to its focus and structure, Politico reported on Friday.
The three options are to use it to investigate the Biden administration’s response to the pandemic, shut it down and move the work to the House Oversight and Reform Committee or shut it down and start a new one that is centered on looking at COVID-19’s origins, according to the report.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the president’s chief medical adviser, said “I have nothing that I could not explain clearly to the country and justify,” when asked about the planned investigations by Senate Republicans if they took the majority, The Hill reported on Tuesday. “I have nothing to hide at all, despite the accusations that I’m hiding something,” said Fauci, who is stepping down from his government roles next month.
On Wednesday, the White House asked Congress for $10 billion in emergency supplemental funding for COVID-19 and other infectious diseases as well as $37.7 billion for Ukraine. “While COVID-19 is no longer the disruptive force it was when the president took office, we face the emergence of new sub-variants in the United States and around the world that have the potential to cause a surge of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths, particularly as we head into the winter months,” wrote Shalanda Young, director of the Office of Management and Budget. The White House has made various other requests for COVID funding over the last almost year, but to no avail. This funding would be used, “help prepare for a possible winter surge, smooth the path to commercialization for vaccines and therapeutics, accelerate research and treatment for long COVID, and develop next-generation vaccines and treatments,” wrote Young.
The Senate voted on Tuesday to end the national emergency for the pandemic, which President Trump first issued in March 2020, which the Biden administration strongly opposed. “The national emergency enables the administration to more effectively respond to COVID-19, including ensuring that necessary supplies are promptly available to respond to the virus and facilitating the delivery of health care at a time when our health system has been under tremendous and prolonged stress,” said a statement of administration policy.
Responding to public health emergencies, such as COVID and monkeypox, is still a challenge for the Health and Human Services Department, which “affect[s] nearly every aspect of department operations, and related challenges are addressed in other [top management challenges,” the HHS watchdog said in a new report about top challenges the department is facing.
There is “substantial uncertainty” about the post-pandemic work environment at the Federal Election Commission and how that will affect retention and recruitment, said the agency’s watchdog. The agency’s pilot program to offer more telework options will end in March 2023 and “Significant disagreements remain among stakeholders, including the commissioners, FEC managers, and the FEC workforce, concerning the degree to which the FEC should permanently embrace telework and remote work,” said an inspector general report issued on Wednesday. “Moreover, if the commissioners themselves are unable to agree upon permanent changes to agency policies, it may result in much more limited telework and remote work options for FEC employees.”
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