Coronavirus Roundup: The Last One
There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s a list of this week’s news updates and stories you may have missed.
This is the final version of Government Executive’s COVID-19 Roundup that we’ve been reporting since March 16, 2020. However, this is not the end of our coverage of COVID-19 and its subsequent impacts on how the federal government operates.
Things we’ll be looking out for include: who replaces Dr. Anthony Fauci; who will lead the new White House office focused on pandemic preparedness; watchdog reports on how various agencies responded to the pandemic; waste, fraud and abuse of COVID-19 relief; federal efforts to study Long COVID-19; the return to office process for federal employees and how telework and other flexible policies are implemented and more. As always, we welcome your tips and ideas.
And now, here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed.
The Federal Bureau of Prison’s response to the pandemic was “worse than what we thought,” said Corene Kendrick, the deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, based on data STAT News obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request. The major findings were that federal prisons with high-risk patients were not prioritized for vaccinations; prisons weren’t testing inmates proactively; BOP’s accounting of its early account response is incomplete and the booster rollout was slow in BOP facilities, said the report. A BOP spokesperson defended its handling of the pandemic and disputed some of characterizations from STAT News.
The Small Business Administration watchdog said in its semiannual report released on Thursday that as of March, its pandemic oversight work has resulted in 860 incidents, 687 arrests, and 486 convictions. “The true magnitude of fraud in SBA pandemic assistance programs will be coming to light for years as these programs move into new stages,” wrote SBA IG Hannibal “Mike” Ware. “We will continue to evaluate and recommend corrections for the most critical risks facing SBA, but oversight of pandemic relief funds and combating fraud in these programs will be a top priority for years to come and will require adequate oversight resources.”
The Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery office, which has been asking for an extension beyond its five-year sunset, is once again warning members of Congress about the “impending crisis in the programs created in March 2020,” per fact-sheet. “For both the Main Street Lending Program and Treasury’s Air Carrier Loan Program SIGPR is noting an alarming rate of defaults by borrowers who are failing to pay even the interest payments on the loans,” the document continued. “As a result, SIGPR is increasingly concerned that the default rate will grow exponentially in years three through five of the loan programs as principal comes due,” which is July 2023 through January 2024.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers reintroduced a bill this week to strengthen the Strategic National Stockpile, so the country is better prepared for future public health emergencies. “The pandemic emphasized the importance of ensuring our nation’s health care providers have the [personal protective equipment], medical supplies, and equipment they need before a crisis strikes,” said Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C.