A medical worker directs a patient to enter a COVID-19 testing site at Elmhurst Hospital Center on March 25, 2020, in New York.

A medical worker directs a patient to enter a COVID-19 testing site at Elmhurst Hospital Center on March 25, 2020, in New York. John Minchillo/AP

Coronavirus Roundup: Agencies Struggle to Meet Escalating Needs

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

Late Wednesday night, the Senate passed a $2 trillion stimulus package that would give federal agencies a $340 billion boost for operations and response efforts to the novel coronavirus. The House is expected to take it up on Friday. Here are some other headlines you might have missed.

Over 100 former national security and military officials issued a statement on Wednesday on the urgent need to fully use the 1950 Defense Production Act. The Wall Street Journal obtained a copy. Among the co-signers are former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

During the White House briefing on Wednesday night, Trump referred to the 1950 Defense Production Act as “a great point of leverage [and] a great negotiating tool” with states. Vice President Mike Pence said the Federal Emergency Management Agency is sending a team to New York to provide technical assistance.

When asked about The Center for Public Integrity’s report that the government’s stockpile of ventilators is only 16,600, Pence said, “I won't dispute your number.”  He added “there literally are, by most estimates, more than 150,000 ventilators in the broad healthcare system all across the country.” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said the state has an urgent need for 30,000 ventilators. 

Some of the medical supplies the federal government has given to states from the national stockpile has expired, ABC News reported on Wednesday. For example, some of the masks given out were from the H1N1 outbreak in 2009.

The Trump administration did not follow the National Security Council’s 69-page guide published in 2016 on the federal government’s response to pandemics. “It is not clear if the administration’s failure to follow the NSC playbook was the result of an oversight or a deliberate decision to follow a different course,” Politico reported.

A U.S. Marine is the first known case of coronavirus inside the Pentagon, DefenseOne reported on Wednesday evening. “As of this weekend, occupancy at the Pentagon was still at over 30 percent of its normal level, according to notes from a … briefing obtained by DefenseOne. ‘One OSD director has been bringing in their people to the office because they don’t have telework equipment and they didn’t think they could use admin leave,’ the memo read.”

The U.S. Army is reaching out to retired officials, noncommissioned officers and soldiers who might want to assist with the coronavirus response. Those interested should contact  usarmy.knox.hrc.mbx.g3-retiree-recall@mail.mil or call 502-613-4911, according to an email from the Army. As part of its outreach, the Army is contacting some retirees now working for the Veterans Affairs Department, Government Executive has learned, raising concerns about how the effort could potentially impact VA’s mission.

The Homeland Security Department extended the deadline for REAL ID-compliant licenses and identification documents from October 1, 2020, to October 1, 2021. In a statement on Thursday, Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf said this is so federal, state and local authorities can focus on the pandemic response. 

The State Department was slow to bring home Americans stranded abroad due to coronavirus travel restrictions, according to lawmakers and former department officials, Politico reported. “The former officials who spoke to Politico said they believe career staff are working to the best of their abilities,” however. One former official said, “I personally cannot believe that the professionals in the department didn’t know exactly what to do and reported this up the chain.”

On Wednesday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said that, along with State, it has brought home 209 citizens from Central America during the outbreak so far. These operations are ongoing. 

The American Federation of Government Employees Union called on the Navy to close all non-mission critical facilities in Naples, Italy. “AFGE Local 3712 represents over 100 civilian employees at the Navy Exchange, Morale Welfare Recreation facilities and the Child Development Center  at Naval Support Activity Naples, in Italy,” said a press release. “Union officials have confirmed that contrary to the Italian government’s ‘stay at home’ guidance,  [stores and facilities] remain operational, including some restaurants within the food court and the bowling alley.”

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration released guidance on how employees and workplaces should handle coronavirus. The document breaks down guidelines based on the level of risk employees have of exposure to the outbreak. 

The Homeland Security Department said on Wednesday it’s conducting research to help scientists understand better the causes and prevention methods of coronavirus. This is taking place at DHS’s National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center laboratory with the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office. Read more here

Several immigation and human rights groups are seeking expedited relief for children in the care of the Health and Human Services Department’s Refugee Resettlement Office, according to a court filing on Wednesday. “ORR detains hundreds of children in large congregate facilities where they have little or no ability to practice social distancing or take other measures to avoid contracting the COVID-19 virus,” said a press release from The National Center for Youth Law. 

Fifteen House Republicans wrote to Attorney General William Barr on Tuesday expressing concerns over reports that the Justice Department is seeking to expand its “police state powers” during the coronavirus. 

The high number of vacancies and lack of experience in the Trump administration could hamper its response to the coronavirus, according to current and former government officials, The New York Times reported on Thursday. 

Vice President Pence said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be issuing guidelines on Thursday on social distancing at the National Parks. Many national parks have closed or limited operations, however. 

Ian Brownlee, principal deputy assistant secretary for State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs and department’s repatriation task force head, told reporters on Wednesday the department is trying to balance visa processing and social distancing guidelines. “Under the law, we’re permitted to waive interviews for broad categories of people, and we are seeking the broadest possible application of that waiver authority,” he said. “We are committed to the greatest extent possible to continuing processing H-2As in Mexico, Central America, and the other main sending countries.”

Former Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thad Allen discussed disaster management and federal workforce morale with the Partnership for Public Service for its Transition Lab podcast. Allen led the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater oil spill. 

Upcoming: The White House coronavirus task force will hold a briefing at 5 p.m.

Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode is about coordination between the federal and state government on responding to the pandemic. 

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.