Coronavirus Roundup: News About the Outbreak that Matters to Feds
There’s a lot to keep track of. Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.
The coronavirus news is changing on an hour-by-hour basis. Here’s a roundup of recent developments you may have missed:
Many agencies have one or more confirmed coronavirus cases. This includes: National Institutes of Health , Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Agriculture Department, U.S. Postal Service, State Department, Defense Department, and Transportation Security Administration. Also, according to an email obtained by Government Executive, the Federal Aviation Administration reported its first three confirmed cases of coronavirus on Monday.
The first vaccine trial has begun. The National Institutes of Health began phase one of a clinical trial of a potential coronavirus vaccine on Monday. This was at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle, Washington. To date, Washington State has the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases.
As Americans stock up on groceries for the long haul, there are growing concerns about Defense Commissary Agency employees. American Federation of Government Employees National President Everett Kelley wrote to Virginia Penrod, acting assistant Defense secretary for manpower and reserve affairs, on Monday to take immediate action to protect those employees and their customers.
Federal unions are increasingly vocal about their concerns for employees. The National Treasury Employees Union, which represents about 150,000 employees in 33 different agencies and departments, published a checklist on Monday for steps it would like agencies to take: Expand telework, make COVID-19 testing available for all federal employees, extend the tax filing season deadline of April 15 by six months, and more.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and 26 other senators called on President Trump to issue an executive order to maximize telework for federal employees. “In the absence of clear order, agencies and managers have been hesitant to take major actions to shift towards telework,” they wrote. Many of the senators have high concentrations of federal employees in their states.
The Pentagon said it's ready to help with the coronavirus, but tried to tamp down expectations about its capacity to respond: "Defense is ready, willing and able to support civilian authorities to the greatest extent possible with the direction of the president," said Assistant to the Defense Secretary for Public Affairs Jonathan Rath Hoffman during a press briefing on Monday. "We just want to make sure that the conversation that is being had is informed by the facts of what is possible, what is not, and what those trade-offs are."
A top foreign assistance official is leaving the administration. U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Mark Green said on Monday he will return to the private sector. USAID oversees the U.S.’s global humanitarian aid, which has been critical to combating the coronavirus worldwide. Green told The Washington Post that his decision to leave is “not related at all” to the Trump administration's response to the outbreak.
Concerns grow about State Department personnel. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J, Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member, wrote to State Secretary Mike Pompeo on Monday concerned that the department is not being transparent about its plans and preparations to protect employees stationed around the world. Read the full letter, including the list of information the senator is seeking.
The Justice Department is trying to combat profiteering from the coronavirus. Attorney General William Barr issued a directive to U.S. attorneys to prioritize investigations of fraudsters, scammers and others seeking to make money off the pandemic. ABC News obtained a copy of the letter.
Navigating the virus in primary and caucus season is becoming a major challenge. The Election Assistance Commission, the federal elections clearinghouse, is advising states as they conduct primaries and caucuses. “Election officials all over the country are having to make difficult decisions on how to best serve their voters,” EAC officials told Government Executive on Monday when asked if they are recommending that states delay their primaries or caucuses. “The EAC is doing all it can to provide information to assist the states in making informed decisions.”
Many federal employees and unions fear their agencies are not protecting them from the coronavirus, despite the Office of Management and Budget’s “maximum telework flexibility” guidance. Read Government Executive’s article here.
The Professional Managers Association, which represents non-collective bargaining unit employees and management officials at the IRS, wants IRS workers to be free to bring their own cleaning supplies to work. “During times such as these, where supply shortages make procurement of such supplies difficult, IRS employees should be allowed to bring their own supplies—when comparable to the approved supplies—into the office to clean their workspace,” said PMA President Chad Hooper. “Regardless of where the supplies come from, employees continuing to come into work should be able to clean their office workspaces rather than risk exposure.”
It may be time for the president to invoke Special Contracting Authority. Project on Government Oversight’s Scott Amey pointed out on Twitter “special acquisition powers in a 1950 law could help the government obtain needed medical equipment in the coronavirus response.” Fifty-seven House members wrote to the president last week calling on him to use it, Federal Computer Week reported.
Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode explores challenges the Federal Bureau of Prisons faces in combating the coronavirus.
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 email@example.com.
Eric Katz and Erich Wagner contributed to the report.
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