Coronavirus Roundup: Union Defends VA Workers After Trump’s Tulsa Remarks; Justice IG Outlines Oversight Plan
There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that the country is doing a “great job” at reopening, despite the recent surges of coronavirus cases in at least 23 states. Also, officials in the South are warning of more cases among individuals in their 20s and 30s. "We're also seeing that not only are they testing positive because they're testing more, they're also testing positive at a higher rate increasingly over the last week," said Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, CNN reported on Sunday. Here are some other recent headlines from over the weekend and today that you might have missed.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., asked the Health and Human Services Department on Sunday to immediately spend the remaining funding appropriated for coronavirus testing and contact tracing as states are experiencing spikes. “The [Trump] administration has still failed to distribute the more than $8 billion of the $25 billion provided by Congress to expand testing and contact tracing capacity,” they wrote. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has yet to award nearly $4 billion in funding that could be used for public health surveillance, and state, local, tribal and territorial surveillance and contact tracing efforts. Finally, very little of the $2 billion Congress set aside to provide free testing for the uninsured has been obligated.”
An HHS investigation determined the early testing kits for coronavirus were “likely” contaminated. This was due to pressure at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to quickly launch testing and “lab practices that may have been insufficient to prevent the risk of contamination,'" The Washington Post reported on Saturday.
Last week, the Justice Department inspector general outlined its coronavirus oversight plan. It said “the most immediate challenges” are the department’s efforts to stop the spread among federal inmates, operate immigration courts in a safe manner and oversee CARES Act funding to states, localities and tribes. See the audits the IG has already announced here.
The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority told companies and researchers earlier this month it was halting funding to treatments to cure the coronavirus’ attack on the lungs. The administration is prioritizing developing a vaccine by the end of the year as the states are reopening and the election is getting closer. “BARDA has pledged more than $2.2 billion in deals with five vaccine manufacturers for the coronavirus, compared with about $359 million toward potential COVID-19 treatments,” The New York Times reported on Friday. “Some clinicians and bioethicists contend that BARDA should continue supporting research into treatments for lung conditions, while other experts contend the policy is a sensible way to spend limited federal dollars.”
After an investigation, the Navy said on Friday it’s holding up its firing of Capt. Brett Crozier, the former commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt who raised the alarm about a coronavirus outbreak on his aircraft carrier in March. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday claimed Crozier’s leaked email pleading for help was not the reason for his removal, but rather his “actions and inactions in the timeframe before sending the email felt well short of what I expect from our officers in command.” Read more from Defense One here.
The House Armed Services Committee said on Friday it launched its own investigation into what happened on the USS Theodore Roosevelt. “Everyone up and down the chain of command had a role to play in the inadequate response – including then-acting Secretary of the Navy [Thomas] Modly,” said Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the committee chairman. “The department’s civilian leadership portrayed Captain Crozier’s decision-making aboard the Roosevelt as the critical weakness in the Navy’s response, but the truth is that civilian leadership was also to blame.”
On Friday, the Defense Department announced five actions under the 1950 Defense Production Act totaling $187 million. They will help “sustain and strengthen essential domestic industrial base capabilities and defense-critical workforce in shipbuilding, aircraft manufacturing, and clothing and textiles,” said Lt. Col. Mike Andrews, Defense spokesman. “These actions will help to retain critical workforce capabilities throughout the disruption caused by COVID-19 and to restore some jobs lost because of the pandemic.”
The Defense Department lifted more travel restrictions on Friday. The department has now lifted restrictions in 46 states and eight host nations.
Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill.; John Katko, R-N.Y.; and Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., introduced a bill on Friday to address the mental health challenges for health care workers confronting the coronavirus. Specifically, it would authorize HHS to do a multi-year study on the issue and allow HHS to distribute grants to health care providers for mental wellness programs
The State Department said on Friday up to 20 staff, contractors, locals and diplomats at the U.S. embassy in Kabul were infected by the coronavirus. The infected individuals are in isolation and the rest are being tested, the Associated Press reported.
Before he was abruptly fired on Friday night, Geoffrey Berman, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, sent a video message to his staff on Thursday about the safety protocols for returning to the office, according to a report in The New York Times. He was “talking about proper use of [personal protective gear]. His departure was not at all expected,” HuffPost reported similarly.
The Treasury Department and Small Business Administration reversed course on Friday and said they will make public information about the small business loan recipients for coronavirus relief. This was after much criticism they were not being transparent. Read the full announcement here on the specifics of the disclosures.
The Office of Management and Budget released guidance on how agencies can offer federal award recipients administrative, financial and audit flexibilities due to the pandemic. “As program managers are considering the extension of the administrative and financial relief, they should be prudent in their stewardship of federal resources, which includes giving consideration to potential offsets-e.g., reduction in training and travel,” said the memo. “In addition, agencies are reminded of their existing flexibility to issue exceptions on a case-by-case basis in accordance with” federal regulations.
The American Federation of Government Employees pushed back on President Trump’s remarks at a rally in Tulsa, Okla., on Saturday night. “Unionized employees at the [Veterans Affairs Department] aren’t ‘sadistic.’ They serve our veterans honorably every day — a third of them are veterans themselves,” AFGE tweeted. “During the #COVID19 pandemic, they cared for our veterans wearing *garbage bags* as [personal protective equipment] because of this administration’s failure to provide adequate protective equipment. They put their own health and safety and that of their families on the line to care for our veterans.”
Upcoming: White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany will hold a briefing at 1 p.m.
Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode looks at how the Pentagon could go about renaming military bases named after Confederate soldiers.
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