Coronavirus Roundup: IRS Plans to Send More Employees Back; HHS Requires Coronavirus Data to Include Race and Ethnicity
There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.
On Thursday, Google announced that China and Iran tried to target the presidential campaigns of former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, and President Trump, respectively. Although the intelligence community has been warning about hacking attempts in the 2020 election for years, cybersecurity experts told The Washington Post the threat has increased during the pandemic. This is due to more campaign activities moving online and the public “likely grow[ing] more vulnerable to influence efforts based on leaked information as it is roiled by conflict over the pandemic and civil unrest following the death of George Floyd in police custody.” Here are a few other recent headlines you might have missed.
The USS Theodore Roosevelt, which suffered a coronavirus outbreak and experienced leadership turmoil, officially restarted its patrol on Thursday. The aircraft carrier docked at a Naval base in Guam in March and started a preliminary return to sea two weeks ago. “To this date, since returning [USS Theodore Roosevelt] to sea two weeks ago, we continue to sail and operate with no return of the virus onboard,” said Capt. Carlos Sardiello, the commander, Stars and Stripes reported. “The Rough Riders and our families’ tenacity and resiliency in the face of uncertainty has been put to the test and met the challenge.”
There is concern that the Defense Department is moving too slowly to address the pandemic and is using relief funds on unrelated things, The Washington Post reported on Thursday after obtaining the Pentagon’s coronavirus spending plan. “Ten weeks after President Trump invoked wartime production powers to address deep medical supply shortages, only 15% of that funding has been placed under contract,” the paper reported. “The department also received $10.5 billion in CARES Act funding to address the crisis, and had spent about $2.65 billion as of Wednesday afternoon.” Jonathan Rath Hoffman, top Pentagon spokesman, said the department is committed to using its funds “legally and responsibly” during this “evolving and dynamic situation.”
The National Treasury Employees Union gave an update on Thursday on the Internal Revenue Service’s plans to bring employees back into workplaces. This week employees in Utah, Texas and Kentucky started going back to their buildings. The next round will start on June 15, for employees in Michigan, Georgia, Missouri and Tennessee. Then on June 29 employees in California, Indiana, Ohio, Puerto Rico and Oregon will go back. Employees who normally telework or have a medical condition will not have to go in. “We understand that the IRS has a backlog of important work that cannot be done remotely and they need to restart systems as soon as possible, but our concerns about the coronavirus pandemic have not changed,” said NTEU National President Tony Reardon. “Employees remain anxious about the risks posed by taking public transportation, being in enclosed facilities with hundreds of coworkers and whether their work stations will be consistently and properly cleaned and disinfected.”
Shane Fausey, national president of the Council of Prison Locals C-33, a division of the American Federation of Government Employees, said he was offended by the Federal Bureau of Prisons medical director’s comments during a Senate hearing on Tuesday regarding coronavirus testing for staff. “His prioritization of inmate care without regard to the health and safety of our employees is repulsive and is not indicative of supporting the agency’s ‘most valuable resource,’ ” Fausey said on Thursday. “The BOP's expectation, under Dr. [Jeffrey] Allen’s advice and direction, to relegate their workplace safety obligations upon local and state government agencies is irresponsible and objectionable...BOP should prioritize the voluntary testing of all employees, especially utilizing all assets within the agency itself, without delay.”
Law enforcement seized hundreds of masks that The Movement for Black Lives, a coalition of groups engaged in the Black Lives Matter movement, planned to send around the country to protect protestors from the coronavirus. The masks read, “Stop killing Black people” and “Defund police.” The first shipment was supposed to go to Washington, St. Louis, New York City and Minneapolis, but never left California, where they were mailed. “The U.S. Postal Service tracking numbers for the packages indicate they were ‘Seized by Law Enforcement’ and urge the mailer to ‘contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service for further information,’” but it is not clear why they were stopped, HuffPost reported.
The Veterans Affairs Department said on Friday all but two of its cemeteries will resume committal and memorial services on June 9 following temporary suspensions due to the pandemic. The VA said the cemeteries will follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance by limiting the number of individuals who can attend, practicing social distancing, ensuring employees and attendees wear face coverings, asking sick individuals to not come and encouraging the use of hand sanitizer.
The Health and Human Service Department announced new guidance on Thursday that specifics labs must include race, ethnicity, age and sex in reporting their coronavirus data. “HHS and the entire Trump administration are deeply concerned that COVID-19 is having a disproportionate impact on certain demographics, including racial minorities and older Americans,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said. “High quality data is at the core of any effective public health response, and standardized, comprehensive reporting of testing information will give our public health experts better data to guide decisions at all levels throughout the crisis.”
Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode features Dr. Beth Ripley, Veterans Health Administration 3D printing network director, talking about the innovation work she’s spearheading at the agency.
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.