Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, center, arrives for a May 15 press conference on the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, center, arrives for a May 15 press conference on the coronavirus pandemic. Alex Brandon / AP

Coronavirus Roundup: IRS to Bring Back More Employees; Census Outlines Plan to Resume Field Operations

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

During an interview with The Hill on Tuesday, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield said he thinks the country is ready to reopen, but added that having enough coronavirus testing and contract tracing ahead of a possible second wave could be a challenge. This week, the agency quietly published 60-page guidelines for reopening schools and businesses, which were reportedly a subject of contention between the White House and CDC. Here are some other recent headlines you might have missed. 

This week the Internal Revenue Service started sending millions of stimulus payments on prepaid debit cards for people who haven’t supplied bank account information. The Treasury Department said it has already sent over 140 million payments worth $239 billion. Look here for frequently asked questions and answers about the cards. 

The IRS is bringing back up to 11,000 employees into offices in Texas, Utah and Kentucky on June 1, the National Treasury Employees Union said on Tuesday. “The IRS has informed us that the IRS posts of duty in those states have been thoroughly disinfected, a comprehensive cleaning schedule is in place, and there are adequate supplies of personal protective equipment readily available to returning employees,” NTEU National President Tony Reardon said. “IRS has said that it will only recall the number of employees needed to address the ongoing filing season, while providing a safe physical distance between employees.” There are about 20,000 IRS employees in those states and about 9,000 of them telework normally and will continue doing so, said the union.

The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee announced on Tuesday that Linda Miller will be the deputy executive director. She was most recently a principal at Grant Thornton, where she led the fraud risk management practice, and she also worked at the Government Accountability Office for 10 years. “I look forward to working with [Executive Director Robert Westbrooks] and the oversight community to coordinate and conduct meaningful oversight, to enhance transparency, and to tackle the unique challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic and the federal government’s emergency response,” Miller said. 

The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Oversight and Investigations subcommittee outlined its coronavirus oversight plan on Tuesday. It will investigate the administration’s handling of contact tracing, testing, vaccine development, food supply, and public health and safety considerations.  

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, asked the Securities and Exchange Commission to update its human capital management reporting requirements, so the public can see the impact of the coronavirus on companies. “This includes, among other things: remuneration across the workforce; employee engagement and sick leave information; investment in training, especially with regard to health and safety preparedness; identification of workforce safety hazards and levels of risk; administrative controls, such as cleaning practices and varying work schedules; and protective equipment for workers, such as masks and gloves,” they wrote. “These issues will be important in determining if companies will be able to open and remain open, a critical issue for investors as well as for the economy as a whole.”

The Food and Drug Administration has a new policy that will require everyone entering its facilities to wear face coverings and will deny entry otherwise, NBC News reported on Tuesday. 

CDC officials told CNN they feel “muzzled” by the Trump administration, as the coronavirus response has become increasingly partisan. “The message we received in previous administrations was, ‘You guys are the scientists,’ ” said a CDC employee. “That's not the case this time. If the science that we are offering up contradicts a specific policy goal, then we are the problem.”

NPR reported on the guidance the Census Bureau is using to determine how and where it resumes field operations. “Each week the Census Bureau will assess the most current information from federal, state, tribal and local health officials to determine which areas would be able to support field operations in the coming week,” said the memo sent on Monday. “All staff will be supplied with needed personal protective equipment and trained on safety protocols.”

Additionally, the Census Bureau is “monitoring and documenting impacts on the quality of the 2020 Census” following the change in operations. “For this reason, we decided to form additional data quality teams to bring together skill sets across the agency to think creatively about how best to complete 2020 Census operations and document and implement efforts to improve the quality of the 2020 Census,” said the memo from Albert Fontenot Jr., associate director of the Decennial Census Programs.

The Homeland Security Department said on Tuesday it extended its public health order to prevent migrants from crossing the border in order to limit the spread of coronavirus. “This order has been one of the most critical tools the department has used to prevent the further spread of the virus and to protect the American people, DHS frontline officers, and those in their care and custody from COVID-19,” said acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is increasing its workplace inspections as businesses begin to reopen and is now telling employers to record coronavirus cases among their workers if they believe they are due to exposure in the workplace, Politico reported on Wednesday. This comes after the agency received much backlash for not being active enough during the pandemic. 

During a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, President Trump defended his use of hydroxychloroquine and said the Veterans Affairs study that found there was no benefit and, rather, more death among veterans who took it, was “phony.”  When asked about the FDA’s warning that hydroxychloroquine shouldn’t be used outside of a hospital setting or research study, Trump said it  “was a false study done where they gave it to very sick people— extremely sick people, people that were ready to die.”

The Justice Department is centralizing its investigations for coronavirus-related insider trading in D.C., Politico reported. This comes as several senators are being questioned for selling stocks at the pandemic’s onset after they received classified briefings. “The central location of the probes points to close coordination of investigations that could have immense stakes,” said Politico. “Multiple U.S. Attorney’s offices—including the Southern District of New York—wanted to handle insider trading investigations of lawmakers, one of the sources said, but all the probes have been centralized in D.C.”

One hundred ten former members of Congress, Cabinet secretaries, ambassadors and governors wrote an open letter to Congress on Wednesday about reforms they believe are needed in the wake of the pandemic. They include economic recovery, public health protection and modernization of Congress. “As former public servants and concerned American citizens, we are deeply worried about the twin threats of a pandemic combined with severe economic peril, and we strongly encourage our government to work together for common purpose for the United States,” they wrote. 

On Wednesday, the General Services Administration updated its “frequently asked questions” page for supply chain contractors during the pandemic. Read the update here.  

Upcoming: Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany will hold a briefing at 3 p.m.

Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode examines the results of a survey by the Government Business Council, the research arm of Government Executive Media group, on how federal employees view the federal government’s coronavirus response. 

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.