Coronavirus Roundup: Concern Over Ending Weather and Safety Leave Schedules for Border Agents
There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.
The coronavirus pandemic is thought to be about to reach its peak in some parts of the United States and there are signs that new cases could be beginning to level off, though the death toll is continuing to rise and officials are warning citizens not to let up on social distancing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released interim guidance for critical infrastructure employees who must return to work. Many federal employees fall within the 16 sectors that the Homeland Security Department deems “essential” to continuity of operations. Here are some other recent headlines you might have missed.
The National Institutes of Health began a clinical trial for hydroxychloroquine, a potential coronavirus therapy, on Thursday with five patients in Tennessee. President Trump and other administration officials have been championing this drug as a possible treatment, but there is not yet a significant body of scientific research on it. Read more about the trial here.
The CDC released a report on Wednesday on its investigations into coronavirus spread in Chicago. Researchers “identified a cluster of 16 confirmed or probable cases, including three deaths, likely resulting from one introduction,” between February and March, CDC said. “Extended family gatherings including a funeral and a birthday party likely facilitated transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in this cluster.”
The Internal Revenue Service closed its last national service center that was open during the pandemic, Politico reported on Wednesday. The location is in Ogden, Utah, where the IRS is one of the largest employers. “The Treasury Department is still on track to begin making the stimulus payments next week,” a source in the department said.
House Democrats introduced a bill on Wednesday that would expand the roster of who can serve on the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee established in the $2.2 trillion CARES Act. This is so that Glenn Fine, recently ousted acting Pentagon inspector general, who was slated to lead the committee, can still be on it, Politico reported. Currently only sitting inspectors general can take part, but the proposed legislation would “allow any senior staff of principal deputy IGs to serve.” Fine is still the principal deputy inspector general at the Pentagon, a position he held prior to becoming acting IG.
On Thursday, Politico reported on the previously overlooked provision of the $2 trillion CARES Act that exempts the Federal Reserve from the federal open meetings law as it created a $450 billion bailout plan. A Federal Reserve spokesperson “did not comment on the changes in the law or whether the Fed would continue keeping records of its meetings,” but said the bank “intends to give notice for regularly scheduled meetings and doesn’t plan to vote on major decisions in less formal settings.”
As children have shifted to virtual learning during the coronavirus outbreak, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is encouraging the use of the “iGuardian Project” that is focused on protecting children from cyber predators and other online risks. ICE can provide presentations for schools or organizations; the agency also maintains a crime tip line.
The Government Accountability Office made recommendations on Thursday on how the federal agencies with critical infrastructure workforces can better safeguard against cyber attacks. Various agencies have been warning about these risks as they’re increasing relying on telework during the coronavirus outbreak.
The American Federation of Government Employees released a statement on Wednesday mourning the loss of two of its members from coronavirus complications. Both members were health care workers at Veterans Affairs facilities. “Employees are literally risking their lives to do their jobs, and the government must take immediate action to protect these brave employees and the public they serve. Not tomorrow. Today,” AFGE National President Everett Kelley said.
Meanwhile, AFGE District 2, which represents 20,000 federal employees in the Northeastern region, criticized the Trump administration for “needlessly putting employees at risk” on Wednesday. Federal employees “have expressed fear of reporting to their facility, citing having to work in close quarters with others with no available [personal protective equipment],” the union said in a statement. Also, “some employees have been prohibited from wearing PPE, due to ‘bad optics.’”
Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., wrote to the Homeland Security Department and Customs and Border Protection on Wednesday expressing concerns that they canceled weather and safety leave schedules for border agents. “We urge you to rescind your decision to revoke this flexible scheduling program and immediately resume this policy so that safe social distancing can continue to be practiced at the border in Detroit and across the country,” she wrote. The National Treasury Employees Union wrote to DHS and CBP about this on Tuesday as well.
The House Oversight and Reform Committee released an HHS document on Wednesday that shows the “insufficient distribution of personal protective equipment and critical medical supplies to states from the strategic national stockpile.” Administration officials confirmed to the committee that the stockpile is now depleted and states will have to rely more on the private sector, according to a press release.
The federal government will end funding for coronavirus testing sites on Friday, which will force some locations to close, NPR reported. Local officials are angered as the pandemic is headed toward its peak. "Many of the community-based testing sites are not closing, but rather transitioning to state-managed sites on or about April 10,” an HHS spokesperson told NPR. "The transition will ensure each state has the flexibility and autonomy to manage and operate testing sites within the needs of their specific community and to prioritize resources where they are needed the most."
Former acting Navy secretary Thomas Modly’s trip to Guam (to explain to the 5,000-member crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt why he removed their captain) cost taxpayers at least $243,151.65, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday night. Modly traveled from Washington, D.C., to Guam on Monday, which led to his resignation after audio leaked of him saying the captain was “too naive or too stupid” to command his ship.
The Defense Department issued updated guidance on Wednesday and Thursday on the movement, testing, face covering protocol and treatment of service members with confirmed coronavirus cases. The department is continuously updating its operations as the pandemic evolves.
The National Guard is expected to activate an additional 10,000 troops to help with the pandemic response in the next week or two, The Hill reported on Wednesday. So far, about 38,400 guardsmen are deployed throughout the country and the National Guard is authorized to go up to 44,000.
Okinawa Island in Japan shifted its 3D printing for aviation maintenance to personal protection equipment, the Defense Department announced on Wednesday. Read more from NextGov about how other federal agencies are using 3D printing for pandemic-related initiatives.
The highest paid federal official (Tennessee Valley Authority President Jeff Lyash) could face a pay cut in the next coronavirus stimulus package that is likely going to focus on infrastructure, The New York Post reported on Wednesday. Lyash made $8.16 million last year. TVA is funded “using electricity revenue from Tennessee and neighboring states, but its debt of up to $30 billion is federally owned, as are its assets,” and “administration officials and House Democrats are agreeing that at a minimum, executive pay should be reduced.” President Trump said during the briefing on Wednesday he agrees Lyash's salary should be cut.
Federal News Network answered some of the questions annuitants returning to the federal workforce during the pandemic might have. It covered dual compensation waivers, benefits, job searching and more.
Lawmakers from Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., wrote to the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Wednesday with concerns their region is not getting sufficient federal assistance as it's expected to be the next hot spot in the coronavirus pandemic. “Because of the unique nature of the interconnectedness of the [area], through transport, work and commerce, lack of resources in one area inherently affects the others,” they wrote. “It is important for supplies allocation to recognize that unique quality and plan appropriately for the region.”
The Trump administration is looking to create a second coronavirus task force to focus on the economy. It will include private sector and top administration officials and could be launched as early as this week, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday.
During the briefing on Wednesday night, State Secretary Mike Pompeo said, “The vast majority” of the 50,000 U.S. citizens repatriated during the outbreak were not State Department officers. “Our embassies—save for the one that is in Wuhan, which we did pull everybody out of— the rest of our facilities around the world are all open.” Also, Pompeo said he’s not aware of any U.S. diplomats or officials who contracted coronavirus in helping rescue U.S. citizens abroad.
The National Association of Immigration Judges, which represents the nation’s 440 immigration judges, said on Wednesday that keeping courts open creates an “unnecessary” public health risk. “A survey of 69 immigration courts across the U.S. finds that just a few courtrooms are closed, while over 60 remain open for full or limited operations,” the union said in a press email. It also listed various coronavirus outbreaks in the courts nationwide.
Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode looks at how various federal agencies are responding to the pandemic about 10 weeks after the first case was confirmed in the country.
Upcoming: The White House coronavirus task force will have a briefing at 5 p.m.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.