In August, the Biden administration instructed agencies to end their covid screening procedures for employees, contractors and visitors to federal buildings.

In August, the Biden administration instructed agencies to end their covid screening procedures for employees, contractors and visitors to federal buildings. Anna Blazhuk/Getty Images

The Year in Review: The Federal Government’s Response to the Pandemic

A look back at some of the biggest stories of the year, and a look ahead for 2023.

The third year of the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic – 2022 – is coming to a close. This year, vaccines for young kids were authorized, updated boosters were deployed, investments were made in treatments for long COVID, and the president told Americans at one point  “the pandemic is over.” Here are some of the other big stories of the year and what to look for in 2023. 

Vaccine Mandates

The federal employees mandate isn’t being enforced as the case is being considered by an appeals court. Meanwhile, in August, the Biden administration instructed agencies to end their covid screening procedures for employees, contractors and visitors to federal buildings. 

The nationwide injunction for the federal contractor vaccine mandate was lifted in August, but the Biden administration hasn’t started enforcing it for the states not covered by the injunction anymore. Then on Dec. 19, a federal appeals court upheld a decision to block the administration from enforcing the mandate in three other states. 

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court struck down the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s vaccinate-or-test policy for employers with 100 or more employees, but allowed the vaccine requirement for facilities that get Medicare and Medicaid funds to remain. 

The military’s vaccine mandate was still intact until repeal of it was included in lawmakers’ compromise text of the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, which the president signed on Dec. 23.

Oversight of COVID Funds

This year, the three oversight entities established by the CARES Act – the Congressional Oversight Commission, Pandemic Response Accountability Committee and Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery – along with other IG offices, the Government Accountability Office, Justice Department, and other law enforcement partners continued their oversight of the massive amount of money allocated for the pandemic response. 

As of September, the Justice Department “has reported criminal charges against more than 1,500 defendants with alleged losses exceeding $1.1 billion; the seizure of over $1.2 billion in relief funds; and civil investigations into more than 1,800 individuals and entities for alleged misconduct in connection with pandemic relief loans totaling more than $6 billion,” according to a Pandemic Response Accountability Committee report published this month. “The [committee] and its partner OIGs are involved in many of these cases.”

Also, this year, the attorney general appointed a director for COVID-19 fraud enforcement and President Biden enacted laws to give prosecutors more time to go after fraudsters in COVID-19 programs for small businesses.

Return to Office Effort 

Biden said during his State of the Union address in March that federal employees would be returning to offices and setting an example for the nation. While there has been guidance from the top, agencies have been responsible for their own return to office policies and any flexibilities they may entail.

“With most agencies having concluded reentry by the end of April and others concluding reentry in the following weeks, the vast majority of federal employees either are or will soon be working at their official worksites and, as appropriate, doing so with updated work arrangements that advance agency missions, including delivery of federal services,” an Office of Management and Budget official told Government Executive.

For some agencies, the reentry process and new telework agreements have been the subject of negotiations and disputes

What To Look For Next Year 

  • Who will replace Dr. Anthony Fauci as he steps down from his government positions? (Government Executive talked to Fauci in February and September)
  • Will the president name a permanent replacement for director of the National Institutes of Health?
  • What, if anything, will be the result of COVID-19 related investigations from the Republican-controlled House?
  • Will there be new COVID-19 vaccines and/or boosters? 
  • Will the administration ever get the additional COVID-19 money it's been asking for? 
  • What will the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s cultural and operational revamp look like? 
  • Will the public health emergency for the pandemic end, and if so, when?