Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Matthew Donovan speaks at a media briefing on Thursday. Donovan said the Pentagon is going to maximize telework during reopening.

Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Matthew Donovan speaks at a media briefing on Thursday. Donovan said the Pentagon is going to maximize telework during reopening. Lisa Ferdinando / Defense Department

Coronavirus Roundup: Agencies Prepare for ‘Above Average’ Hurricane Season Amid Pandemic; Pentagon Says Some Telework Policies Might Become Permanent

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

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield said in an interview with The Financial Times on Thursday he cannot predict whether or not the country will need a second round of stay-at-home orders if there is a coronavirus outbreak in the winter. "I can't guarantee; that's kind of getting into the opinion mode, we have to be data driven,” he said. “What I can say is that we are committed to using the time that we have now to get this nation as overprepared as possible.” Later on Thursday, while touring a manufacturing plant in Michigan, President Trump said he would not close the country if a second coronavirus wave hits.  Here are some other recent headlines you might have missed. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and coronavirus task force member, said on Thursday night he thinks the public will be seeing more of him soon, which comes after his TV appearances have been limited in recent weeks. "We've been talking with the communications people, and they realize we need to get some of this information out, particularly some of the scientific issues for which I'm predominantly responsible for,” he said on CNN

Fauci also said he’s “cautiously optimistic” about the early results from vaccine trials by NIH and Moderna, a biotech company. See the timeline of the vaccine trial here. 

The Food and Drug Administration published the names of antibody tests that are no longer on the FDA’s “notification list” of tests being offered for the coronavirus. It includes those that were withdrawn voluntarily from the list by the commercial manufacturer and those that don’t have a pending or issued emergency use authorization request. The agency said it published this list in the interest of continued transparency to the public. 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency asked all states and territories to give their data on ventilator availability to the data mining company Palantir, which was co-founded by Trump ally Peter Thiel. The administration signed contracts worth about $24.8 million for the company to track deficiencies in and project health infrastructures needs, The Daily Beast reported on Thursday. While the company said it’s not collecting personal information and will not repurpose the data, some raised concerns. “Every American should be concerned about the prospect of a private software and data company with close financial ties to the Trumps and Kushners having access to sensitive government data, while health professionals and the public have been kept in the dark,” Kyle Herrig, president of the watchdog Accountable.US, told The Daily Beast. “There are more questions than answers about the administration’s response and what safeguards–if any–were put in place to protect privacy and taxpayer funds.”

After reviewing a February 2020 report by the recently ousted State Department inspector general, the advocacy group Truth Wins Out said on Thursday that White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx has “questionable leadership, [which] foretold of the failed U.S. effort to curtail the spread of the coronavirus.” The IG report was about the federal government’s HIV/AID’s emergency response, which Birx coordinated. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said on Thursday it's predicting an “above-average” hurricane season. FEMA is now balancing the pandemic response and hurricane preparedness. Read more from Route Fifty here

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in an interview with The Hill on Thursday the president has “considered workers expendable” as he looks to reopen the economy. Also, while AFL-CIO supports the $3 trillion HEROES Act the House passed last week, he said neither that nor the CARES Act “is really a stimulus bill, they’re intermediate steps to stop the hemorrhaging” caused by the coronavirus.

Trump issued an executive order this week to allow agencies to take deregulatory actions to aid the country’s economic revival. As Government Executive reported last week, some watchdogs are worried that the administration's continued deregulation during the coronavirus outbreak could harm the environment and public health. 

The Internal Revenue Service is hosting its annual tax forums via live-streamed webinars this year. The agency has been doing these professional outreach events around the country every summer for 30 years.  "Given restrictions on large gatherings and difficulties with travel, we've made the decision to present the IRS nationwide tax forums in a virtual format this year," IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said. "While we're unable to meet in person, tax professionals will still be able to choose from a wide variety of virtual seminars on tax law. Many will be able to fully satisfy their annual continuing education requirements by registering and attending."

Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., asked Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia on Thursday to issue an emergency temporary standard to protect frontline workers from the coronavirus. “The federal government has an obligation to set clear, enforceable, mandatory standards for businesses to follow and provide guidance on how workplaces can best keep workers safe—particularly as states relax stay-at-home orders and allow additional businesses to open,” they wrote

The Federal Bureau of Prisons has been updating its data daily on the number of inmate and staff coronavirus cases and deaths. While it has expanded inmate testing, it “cannot require that staff members be tested for COVID-19,” Justin Long, BOP spokesperson told Government Executive. “We encourage wardens to identify and publish available testing sites in the community where interested staff may be tested.” For staff members with possible coronavirus symptoms or those who have been in contact with infected individuals, the agency has a letter that staff members can give to their local health department to “ensure such persons receive priority COVID-19 testing.”  

Fifteen Democratic senators wrote to Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday asking him how the coronavirus task force is preparing for flu season amid the coronavirus pandemic. They asked for information on anticipated medical equipment, vaccine, hospital and staffing needs, plans for public health campaigns and other national preparations by June 2. 

Defense Department officials said during a briefing on Thursday telework policies for some might remain in place post-pandemic. "We've learned a lot of lessons about the ability to telework, and how we keep our productivity up," said Matthew Donovan, Defense undersecretary for personnel and readiness. "I think moving forward...as we step through a phased approach on reopening...we're going to continue to maximize the teleworking. We've made a lot of progress with making sure that the network capacities are available and people have access to the materials and documents that they need from a teleworking location."

On Friday, over 100 lawmakers wrote to FEMA, the Defense Department and White House asking them to keep the National Guard deployed and provide them with fair health care, leave and federal benefits, Politico reported. “Our national success in flattening the curve will not be possible without the contributions of the National Guard,” the bipartisan group wrote. "We believe it is critical to ensure that all National Guard personnel are taken care of during this crisis and after, recognizing that the threat of COVID-19 will not immediately go away and the National Guard is likely to be called on again in the future.” Read Government Executive’s coverage from Thursday on other lawmakers’ similar calls following the report Trump is considering National Guard deployments by June 24, which could prevent many from becoming eligible for federal benefits.

The Pentagon said on Thursday it rescinded its policy that would prevent individuals hospitalized for coronavirus from serving in the military, Stars and Stripes reported. Read an analysis from Defense One about potential recruiting and retaining challenges post-pandemic.

There is a bipartisan push for the Small Business Administration to be more transparent about how it's implemented the $670 billion Paycheck Protection Program for coronavirus relief. However, “both critics and defenders of the SBA acknowledge that the relatively small bureaucracy, with about 4,000 staffers, has been faced with a monumental challenge in trying to keep small businesses and their employees afloat amid business closures forced by the coronavirus pandemic,” The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday. 

Federal News Network obtained the “reopening playbook” for the Agriculture Department, which is consistent with the Trump administration’s reopening guidelines. Employees will return to offices in phases, but there is no set timeline yet for return. The department said facilities should provide masks or face coverings to employees throughout the three phases.

Energy Department officials said on Thursday their supercomputers that are handling coronavirus data are being targeted by hackers, Roll Call reported. Over the last few months, the FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency have been warning about the increased cyber threats they’ve been seeing across the country. 

Upcoming: White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany will hold a briefing at 2 p.m.

Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode looks at Trump’s recent firing of the State Department inspector general and how this fits into the administration’s overall approach to oversight. 

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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