Coronavirus Roundup: Pentagon Seeks Economic Relief for Defense Contractors, Census Gets OK for Pandemic-Related Survey
There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed
During Monday evening’s briefing on the novel coronavirus outbreak, President Trump said “many of the areas hardest hit by the virus appear to have turned the corner” and “thirty states have just one case or less per 1,000 people.” However, later in the night he tweeted that he will be signing an executive order to temporarily suspend immigration “in light of the attack from the invisible enemy.” Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed.
Since Jan. 1, 15 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention staff members have been at the World Health Organization’s Geneva headquarters “who've been detailed specifically to work with us on COVID-19,” said WHO Executive Director Dr. Michael Ryan on Monday. The briefing followed a Washington Post report that found CDC staff, along with other experts, were sending real-time information to the Trump administration about the coronavirus’ spread in China late last year.
“Having CDC staff means there is nothing hidden from the U.S. from Day 1 because these are Americans who are working with us and [sharing information] just comes naturally and they just tell what they're doing,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus during the briefing. “And for WHO, it's open. We don't hide anything. It's open not only for CDC, them sending messages or others, we want all countries to get the same message immediately because that helps countries to prepare well and to prepare quickly.” Last week the Trump administration said it would halt funding to the WHO while it reassesses the organization’s handling of the pandemic.
The Internal Revenue Service alerted federal benefits recipients with dependents on Monday that they must register their dependents by Wednesday in order to receive stimulus checks. Although the individuals will automatically get their checks, their children or other dependents will not unless they take this action.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., chairman of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, said on Monday his committee will “conduct aggressive oversight” of the small business Paycheck Protection Program. This will include “whether companies made false certifications to the federal government to receive [paycheck protection] loans” and the committee will use subpoena power, if necessary.
The Washington Post profiled the Health and Human Services Department official in charge of coronavirus testing who was ousted from Texas A&M University in 2015. Brett Giroir is now in the spotlight as “some governors have blasted the lack of federal help on testing,” the paper reported. “His years as director of the Texas vaccine project illustrate his operating style, which includes sweeping statements about the impact of his work, not all of which turned out as some had hoped.”
On Monday, the Army resumed sending some new recruits to training after a two-week pause. It is only allowing recruits from low-risk areas to the Army’s four training bases, The Hill reported.
The Pentagon is seeking “billions” in the next stimulus package to help defense contractors during the pandemic, Ellen Lord, Defense undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment, said during a briefing on Monday. “We continue to carefully and methodically track the state of the defense industrial base,” she said. “Out of 10,509 major prime companies, 106 are closed, with 68 companies having closed and reopened. Out of 11,413 vendor-based companies, 427 are closed, with 147 having closed and reopened.”
House Energy and Commerce Committee leaders wrote to the Health and Human Services Department and Federal Emergency Management Agency on Monday saying the administration has not been transparent about its response to states’ requests for medical supplies and distribution of them. They cited the recent HHS inspector general report that found widespread shortages at hospitals nationwide.
A New York federal judge called the Federal Bureau of Prisons' quarantine policies “illogical” and “Kafkaesque” in ruling on Sunday, Politico reported on Monday. U.S. District Court Judge Alison Nathan made these remarks while ordering the immediate release of a former New York police officer who pleaded guilty to involvement in a fraudulent Social Security disability scheme. “[Gerard] Scparta is currently stuck in the bizarre limbo of the Bureau of Prisons’ quarantine policy, which, as the court has discussed, achieves the backward result of prolonging incarceration and increasing community spread,” she wrote.
After the president tweeted late on Monday night he will be temporarily suspending immigration due to the pandemic, author and journalist Garrett Graff pointed out the Homeland Security Department currently has no Senate-confirmed leadership on immigration. The secretary, deputy secretary, general counsel and heads of the three border/immigration divisions” have either acting officials or vacancies.
Since the start of the pandemic the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has identified and blocked over 3,500 coronavirus-related nefarious domains and email addresses, according to DHS’s weekly update. Also, as of April 19, FEMA has coordinated the delivery of 55.8 million N95 respirators, 77.1 million surgical masks, 6.1 million face shields, 11.4 million surgical gowns, 564 million gloves, 212,000 coveralls and 10,998 ventilators to areas in need.
The Census Bureau received emergency approval from the Office of Management and Budget to email or text an online survey to 13.8 million homes over 12 weeks to study the impact of the pandemic on spending, food and housing security, education, physical and mental health, and employment, NPR reported on Monday. Read more here.
Additionally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics is seeking an emergency approval to add five questions to the Current Population Survey on the effects of the pandemic, the American Statistical Association tweeted. BLS submitted the request on Monday and would like an answer by April 30.
During the coronavirus briefing on Monday evening, Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, Army chief of engineers and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers commanding general, spoke about construction of the border wall during the pandemic. “We've got over 4,000 contractors that are on the ground out there, and we've had no positives as of this morning, knock on wood. Same thing with my 400 employees,” he said. “We're testing them—not necessarily with the more stringent test, but with temperatures—to be able to make sure that everybody is safe and everybody goes out of their way to do things the right way.”
Semonite also said the Army Corps of Engineers executed construction on 32 facilities for coronavirus patients that will have a total of 15,800 beds. Eight facilities are done. Also it designed 52 more facilities for states to build that will have a total of 17,260 beds.
Vice President Mike Pence said during the briefing the administration told governors on Monday they are sending CDC teams to every U.S. state and territory to help with virus contact tracing. He said 10-12 employees would be on the teams to start.
The White House is preparing for a “sweeping” deregulation effort as part of its economic recovery efforts following the pandemic, The Washington Post reported on Tuesday. The timing and details are still being worked out, but “changes could affect environmental policy, labor policy, workplace safety and health care, among other areas.” The administration has already made regulation rollbacks a cornerstone policy.
Veterans Affairs researchers are studying the impact of the coronavirus on aging veterans with dementia, the department announced on Tuesday. The National Institute on Aging awarded the VA Center for Innovation in Long Term Services and Supports (located in Providence, R.I.) a $184,375 grant earlier this month.
The Treasury Department and Secret Service announced a joint partnership on Monday to make individuals aware of fraudulent stimulus checks. They listed some things to look out for to determine if paper checks are real or not.
Nearly 170 congressional members wrote to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., on Monday asking for funding in the next stimulus bill to hold National Labor Relations Board elections electronically. “In times of crisis, it is the responsibility of good government to find ways to adapt to ensure that the rights of its constituents are protected,” they wrote. “Workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively with their employer are always important, but especially so when subjects like adequate health care benefits, access to protective equipment, and pandemic safety protocols, are—quite literally—matters of life and death.”
Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode features a former senior White House economic adviser discussing the costs and benefits of easing coronavirus mitigation practices.
Upcoming: The White House coronavirus task force will have a briefing at 5 p.m.
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