Coronavirus Roundup: Omnibus Updates and Post-Pandemic Challenges for DOJ
There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s this week's list of news updates and stories you may have missed.
Despite repeated requests from the Biden administration, supplemental COVID funding was not included in the fiscal 2023 government funding agreement released on Tuesday, though there are still some pandemic-related provisions.
This includes a requirement for the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response to report to Congress on the feasibility for creating an Al-enabled pandemic preparedness and response program; an increase in funding for the U.S. attorneys due to COVID-fraud cases and other matters; an increase in funding for the National Institute of Mental Health to study the impact of the pandemic on mental health; and an encouragement for ASPR to “the agreement urges ASPR to prioritize the development and stockpiling of critical [chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense] vaccines, treatments, diagnostics, and personal protective equipment to ensure there is no disruption in the availability of these life-saving medical countermeasures in the Strategic National Stockpile,” according to a joint explanatory statement.
Another item is $12 million for the Office of the Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery, which has had funding struggles in the past. “SIGPR is very grateful and pleased that Congress recognizes our important work protecting the taxpayers from CARES Act fraud,” Special IG Brian Miller told Government Executive in a statement. “We will continue our efforts to safeguard the American people from theft and squandering of their hard-earned money.”
Another major change is that the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be subject to Senate confirmation, starting on Jan. 20, 2025. Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed.
“Managing the post-pandemic impact” on operations is one of the Justice Department’s top management challenges, according to a new report by its watchdog. “With over $5 trillion in pandemic relief funds being distributed in a relatively short time frame, the department faces a daunting task of responding to the magnitude and gravity of fraud-related cases,” said the report. As for litigation components and immigration courts, “post-pandemic, the department faces the challenge of being adequately resourced and prepared to continue operations, while affording litigants due process, in the event that in-person proceedings are disrupted due to future emergencies and catastrophic events.”
Then for the federal prisons system, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, “faces the challenge of incorporating lessons learned from the pandemic into planning for future public health emergencies,” such as “to effectively reconcile emergency-related policies with mental health considerations,” said the Justice Department inspector general in a report. “Another important challenge is the BOP’s implementation of early release authorities during public health emergencies.”
During the briefing on Monday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked for an update on the free testing program the administration launched last week and how long it will be open for. Jean-Pierre said she would have to check with the COVID team, but knows “it's been very successful.” She didn’t have a timeline on how long it will be available for.
On Monday, a federal appeals court upheld a preliminary injunction preventing enforcement of the contractors vaccine mandate in Louisiana, Indiana, Mississippi. Although the nationwide injunction was lifted, the mandate is currently not being enforced.