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Coronavirus Roundup: Watchdog Outlines Government’s Shortcomings in Pandemic Response; Native Tribe Sues Administration Over Funding Loss

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

The United States set a new record on Wednesday for daily coronavirus cases confirmed with 36,880 new infections. The previous milestone high was 36,739 cases on April 24. The increase of cases is largely in southern and western states. Here are some other recent headlines you might have missed. 

The Government Accountability Office reported on Thursday that the Internal Revenue Service and Treasury Department distributed 160.4 million coronavirus relief payments worth $269.3 billion to taxpayers as of May 31, which included payments to over 1 million deceased individuals. GAO also outlined issues with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s testing, Small Business Administration's mechanisms to identify risks and the Labor Department’s guidance to state unemployment agencies. 

Common Good, a nonpartisan reform coalition, released an initiative on Thursday to “overhaul legacy bureaucracies” following the government’s failures on police accountability and the pandemic response. It will soon release a 16-point platform with specific ideas, which are backed by bipartisan former public officials, business leaders and industry experts. 

Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., introduced legislation on Wednesday that would increase scholarship funding and loan programs for the National Health Service Corps, Nurse Corps, and National Disaster Medical System. They said the bill would address the challenges the Government Accountability Office outlined in a report last week regarding the Health and Human Services Department’s management of emergency responders over the last three years. 

Buzzfeed News published a feature on Wednesday that documents the Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention’s handling of the coronavirus from January to the present. “More than 120,000 U.S. deaths and counting later, public health experts disagree whether the CDC — which only resumed its briefings on the coronavirus in June after its three-month vanishing act — could have ever contained SARS-CoV-2,” said the report. “Everyone agrees, though, that the U.S. response has been a disaster across the federal government, with the CDC the most visible face of failure.”

Dozens of Secret Service officers and agents who were at President Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa, Okla. over the weekend were told to self-quarantine. Two employees tested positive for coronavirus and although they were not at the rally, they were around other Secret Service staff beforehand, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday. Many public health officials were alarmed that the president would host a large event in an enclosed arena.

Trump plans to visit Mount Rushmore in South Dakota on July 13 to headline a fireworks show, which is sparking similar concerns over virus spread as well as the environmental impact. However, the White House and Interior Department said they’re taking the proper public health precautions. The state is distributing 7,500 tickets for the event and estimated it received at least 125,000 requests for tickets, The Washington Post reported. When asked about attending large gatherings during a hearing on Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and White House coronavirus task force member, said: “Plan A: Don’t go in a crowd. Plan B: If you do, make sure you wear a mask.” 

The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, which represents current, former and retired National Park Service employees, criticized the fireworks plans on Thursday. “While we fully understand the desire to celebrate the founding of our nation, shooting off fireworks at Mount Rushmore National Memorial is ill-advised and unsafe, particularly as we continue to grapple with the ongoing impacts of COVID-19,” said the organization in an email to the press. In addition to environmental concerns, “We are also particularly concerned about the potential for this national park to become a hot spot for COVID-19 infections, as there are no plans to enforce social distancing.”

The Army activated 400 unarmed members of the D.C. National Guard to prevent destruction of monuments around the city. “Some Guardsmen who were mobilized weeks ago had transitioned back to supporting efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic, but will now return to the civil disturbance mission,” The Washington Post reported on Wednesday evening. Demonstrators nationwide have been trying to tear down and deface monuments dedicated to racist and segregationist public officials in the wake of the protests for police reform and racial justice. 

The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration on Monday for forcing the tribe to get rid of their coronavirus screening checkpoints for individuals coming onto their reservation in South Dakota. “The tribe’s health safety checkpoints are a lawful exercise of our sovereign authority and intended to protect our people from sickness and death. And it’s working,” said attorney for the tribe, Nicole Ducheneaux, a partner at Big Fire Law & Policy Group and member of the Cheyenne River Sioux. “When the tribe informed White House and agency officials that they were not going to end their health checkpoints, the tribe’s law enforcement funding was pulled in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic leaving an already vulnerable population to deal with yet another health and safety crisis.”

On Wednesday, the Labor Department inspector general's office outlined its concerns about the Employment and Training Administration’s implementation of Dislocated Worker Grant provisions included in the CARES Act, which gave the administration $345 million. “Prior OIG audits have identified [the Employment and Training Administration’s] history of grantees not meeting grant goals and objectives. We are concerned that similar problems could carry over to CARES Act-funded [Dislocated Worker Grants],” said a report. Also, “past audit work has shown that with an accelerated timetable for awarding [Dislocated Worker Grants], [Employment and Training Administration] needs to be vigilant in program compliance and monitoring.” 

Tomas Philipson, White House Council of Economic Advisers acting chairman, plans to leave the administration at the end of the month, Politico reported. That is the second economic official set to depart as the administration handles the recession caused by the pandemic. White House Economic Adviser Kevin Hassett plans to leave his unpaid post over the summer, Axios reported on Monday. 

The FBI Deputy Assistant Director Tonya Ugoretz said at an event on Wednesday that the agency’s Internet Crime Complaint Center received as many complaints in the first two weeks of June as it did in all of 2019. The agency has been flooded with coronavirus related complaints, CyberScoopNews reported

Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode digs into how the pandemic is affecting federal retirement savings plans.

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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