A COVID-19 testing site is deconstructed at the Brooklyn Hospital Center on May 12.  New York and New Jersey have handed over ventilators they received from Russia to FEMA because they didn’t need them.

A COVID-19 testing site is deconstructed at the Brooklyn Hospital Center on May 12. New York and New Jersey have handed over ventilators they received from Russia to FEMA because they didn’t need them. John Minchillo/AP

Coronavirus Roundup: Contractor Group Praises New Stimulus Proposal; VA Releases Mental Health App

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

On Tuesday afternoon, House Democrats unveiled a new $3 trillion coronavirus relief package that would give frontline federal employees hazard pay and other protections. The House could vote on it as early as Friday. However, House Progressive Caucus chairs asked House leadership on Wednesday to delay voting on the new stimulus package past Friday, so lawmakers have more time to review the over 1,800 pages. Here are some other recent headlines you might have missed. 

The Veterans Affairs Department released a new mobile application on Tuesday to help veterans and civilians handle stress and anxiety during the pandemic. It has mindfulness exercises, indoor activities, links to professional resources and more.

The Professional Services Council, which represents over 400 companies that do business with the federal government, applauded contractor provisions in the House Democrats’ stimulus package. “This package supports this effort, maintains workforce employment, and sustains the industrial base—including many small businesses—by keeping companies working and funded,” PSC President and CEO David Berteau said. “PSC also urges Congress to address in any legislation additional issues impacting the federal contractors, such as tax equality for leave-sharing programs, common-sense changes in supply chain security requirements, and a fair equitable adjustment process for companies affected by the emergency.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency canceled a $55 million agreement with a Virginia-based defense contractor on Tuesday because it did not produce 10 million masks, as agreed. The company’s parent corporation (Panthera Enterprises) filed for bankruptcy last year. “The no-bid contract for N95 masks with the embattled company struck procurement experts as unusual,” The Washington Post reported. “ ‘Even under emergency circumstances, federal agencies are required to determine that contractors are responsible and to find the price fair and reasonable,’ said Daniel Gordon, a former administrator for federal procurement policy in the Obama administration and former acting general counsel in the Government Accountability Office.”

New York and New Jersey handed over ventilators they received from Russia to FEMA because they didn’t need them. In the past week, two ventilators of that model burst into flames and killed six people in Russia. “The conclusion(s) of the investigation being conducted by the Russian authorities into the fire in St. Petersburg will help inform our decision regarding any future use of the ventilators,” said a FEMA spokesperson, Buzzfeed News reported on Tuesday. 

The State Department is taking a more “cautious” approach than Trump has been advocating for resuming normal operations by rolling out a  “phased plan to bring diplomats back to work, dubbed ‘Diplomacy Strong,’ which has built-in plans for potential second waves of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States and posts around the world,” Foreign Policy reported on Tuesday. However, a State spokesperson denied there was any “daylight” between the White House and State Department. 

In its weekly update, the Homeland Security Department outlined how the Federal Emergency Management Agency is preparing for hurricane season during the pandemic. According to the National Hurricane Center, the season begins on May 15 in the Eastern Pacific and June 1 in the Atlantic. 

The Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention had a “more restrictive” and nationally coordinated approach to the White House’s reopening guidelines published on April 17. Although it was reported previously that some of the CDC’s guidance was shelved, the Associated Press obtained a more detailed 63-page document that “shows how the thinking of the CDC infection control experts differs from those in the White House managing the pandemic response.”

Some of demoted vaccine head Dr. Rick Bright’s colleagues said his whistleblower complaint leaves out the full context regarding the Trump administration’s push to use an anti-malaria drug to treat the coronavirus. “Some of his allegations about department decisions on COVID-19 don’t match officials’ statements or the public record,” Politico reported on Wednesday. “And Bright’s central claim that he was ousted for battling Trump appointees over science is less than certain given that some of his own staff spent months raising concerns about his leadership, including a complaint filed by a person in Bright’s office last summer.” 

Bright will testify before a House committee on Thursday morning. White House Trade Adviser Peter Navarro, who warned the administration about the pandemic’s threats earlier this year and is mentioned throughout Bright’s whistleblower complaint, declined an invitation to appear at the hearing, The Washington Post reported. This is based on the “longstanding precedent, followed by administrations of both political parties, rooted in clearly established constitutional doctrines, and supported by the Department of Justice, that senior advisers to the president generally do not testify before Congress,” White House spokesman Judd Deere told the paper. 

On Wednesday, Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., asked the acting Health and Human Services inspector general to investigate the role of pharmaceutical companies and consultants in the federal government’s supply procurement and drug approval process. This was in reference to Bright’s whistleblower complaint claims. 

On Tuesday, President Obama’s Ebola czar and former chief-of-staff for former Vice President Joe Biden tweeted screenshots of the pandemic playbook that the Obama administration left behind. Ronald Klain said he’s been receiving many questions about the existence of such a book. 

The FBI and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency issued a public service announcement on Wednesday about potential Chinese threats on coronavirus research in the United States. They outlined cybersecurity practices that health care, pharmaceutical and other research organizations should be taking.

The Treasury Department and Small Business Administration released updated guidance on Wednesday on “good faith certification” for businesses seeking coronavirus loans. See question number 46 in this document for more information. 

On Wednesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., introduced legislation that would protect frontline workers’ access to legal remedies during the pandemic. "No worker should ever lose their access to justice because of the COVID-19 pandemic," said DeLauro. "If a worker experiences a labor or employment violation that they wish to file with the appropriate federal agency, they deserve to have the proper amount of time to make their case. Extending the limitation period to account for the ongoing public health crisis is the right thing to do.” The lawmakers are pushing for this to be included in the next relief package. 

Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode looks at how defense firms are hiring during the pandemic.

Upcoming: The new House select subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis will hold its first briefing on safely reopening the economy at 3 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 newstips@govexec.com.