A sign about COVID-19 safely is posted at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on Monday, March 23.

A sign about COVID-19 safely is posted at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on Monday, March 23. Carolyn Kaster/AP

Coronavirus Roundup: OMB Releases New Workforce Guidance, Agencies Report More COVID-19 Cases

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

Here are some of the recent updates from over the weekend and today that you might have missed:

The Office of Management and Budget published guidance for federal contractors on Friday night. It includes maximizing telework and using special procurement powers authorized in a national emergency. The guidance came a day before the first contractor death reported in the United States. Read Government Executive’s full story here

Then on Sunday, OMB published updated guidance for agencies’ use of technology to support mission critical services during coronavirus. “Agencies are directed to use the breadth of available technology capabilities to fulfill service gaps and deliver mission outcomes,” wrote OMB Deputy Director Margaret Weichert. Read more in NextGov about it. 

A  Science Magazine interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, sheds light on what it’s like to be a member of the White House coronavirus task force: “When you're dealing with the White House, sometimes you have to say things 1,2,3,4 times, and then it happens. So I'm going to keep pushing,” he said. 

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., introduced legislation on Sunday to accelerate procurement of critical equipment under the 1950 Defense Production Act. She said in a press release that President Trump has not used the full authority of the law, so her bill would “massively scale up production of made in America medical supplies that our health care workers need to combat this public health emergency and save lives.”

National parks are getting “mixed messages” on coronavirus guidance, the nonprofit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility said on Monday. Over 100 have closed, but most are still open and the Interior Department waived entrance fees to all parks. PEER said the department is in “contrast” to OMB guidance on minimizing face-to-face interactions. 

The Office of Personnel Management said on Friday it would relax regulations to allow the Veterans Affairs Department to rehire retired employees to work on the coronavirus. Read NextGov’s story about the dual compensation reduction waivers. 

The Federal Bureau of Prisons confirmed its first inmate cases of coronavirus over the weekend according to its new online tracker. There are two cases at Federal Correctional Complex in Oakdale, Louisiana and another at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York. 

A U.S. Secret Service employee tested positive for coronavirus, the agency reported on Monday morning. "The employee is currently in quarantine. The agency will continue to monitor the employee's condition,” an agency spokesperson told various media outlets.

The Justice Department filed its first enforcement action for coronavirus fraud on Sunday. The case in the Western District of Texas involved a website that was offering a fraudulent coronavirus vaccine.

During the press briefing on Sunday, President Trump said FEMA “will be funding 100% of the cost for deploying National Guard units to carry out approved missions … while the governors remain in command.” Specifically, he said he directed FEMA to build four large medical stations with 1,000 beds in New York, eight large medical stations with 2,000 beds in California and three large and four small medical stations with 1,000 beds in Washington State.  Also, one of the two Navy hospital ships to be deployed will go to Los Angeles.

On Sunday, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Peter Gaynor said on ABC that “it’s happening” when pressed on when the national stockpile of masks will be given to health care systems nationwide. He did not give a specific timeframe or number of masks already shipped. 

Attorney General William Bar told U.S. attorneys on Friday to direct state and local law enforcement to allow federal employees and contractors who must commute to work for “mission critical” jobs to show identification cards to circumvent “shelter in place” or lockdown orders. Read the full memo here.

Sens. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Mark Warner, D-Va., sent letters on Friday to four Veterans Affairs Department medical centers to “expend every effort to ensure that veterans and the health providers who care for them are safe amid the novel coronavirus.” This includes: allowing telework when possible, providing appropriate protective gear and providing the senators with detailed plans on how they’re working to reduce the spread of the disease.

U.S. intelligence officials were warning about the dangers of a global pandemic in January and February, but the president and lawmakers downplayed the threat, The Washington Post reported on Friday night. “The intelligence reports didn’t predict when the virus might land on U.S. shores or recommend particular steps that public health officials should take … but they did track the spread of the virus in China, and later in other countries, and warned that Chinese officials appeared to be minimizing the severity of the outbreak,” said the paper. 

The federal system to recruit medical volunteers in disaster situations is being “neglected,” NPR and The Center for Public Integrity co-reported on Saturday. As the country is scrambling for medical personnel, resources and equipment, they found the HHS-run website is “little-promoted and has a major glitch: its drop-down menu goes nowhere for 10 states.”

As the annual cherry blossoms have bloomed in Washington D.C., the National Mall is restricting access to the Tidal Basin in order to encourage social distancing. Instead, the National Park Service is encouraging people to take a virtual tour.

The Democratic majority of the House Natural Resources Committee launched an online form for tribal organizations to describe how they’re being impacted by coronavirus and where the gaps are in federal services. This comes after Committee Chairman Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., sent a letter last week to the Indian Health Services with concerns “about the pace and scope of the Trump administration’s response to the spread of coronavirus” in tribal areas. 

The Justice Department quietly asked Congress for the ability to expand its emergency powers during the pandemic, Politico reported. This included being able to ask chief judges to indefinitely detain people without trials and pausing the statute of limitations for criminal investigations and civil proceedings.

The Health and Human Services inspector general is looking into the department coronavirus response so far, specifically nursing home preparedness and quarantine and repatriation efforts, CNN reported on Monday. It's unclear if the review correlated directly to the whistleblower complaint about the lack of proper training or gear for HHS officials receiving the first Americans evacuated from Wuhan, China, in February. 

Upcoming: The White House Coronavirus Task Force will hold a press briefing at 5:30p.m.

Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode seeks to answer some of our readers’ questions about agency operations during 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 newstips@govexec.com.

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