There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.
The New York Times had to sue the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain CDC’s data on the racial impact of the coronavirus. Although much of this was already known, the release offers the most comprehensive data to date on the disproportionate impact of the virus on Latino and Black individuals. Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed.
On Monday, the Treasury Department and Small Business Administration released the names of some of the Paycheck Protection Program loan recipients and amounts received. In late June, the agencies reversed course and said they would make the information public after much criticism that they were not being transparent. For those who receive loans above $150,000, (about 75% of loans approved) they disclosed the business names, addresses, industry codes, zip codes, business type, demographic data, non-profit information, jobs supported and loan amount. For loans below $150,000, they released the totals, aggregated by zip code, by industry, by business type, and by various demographic categories.
Small Business Majority Founder and CEO John Arensmeyer said while he was “pleased” the information was released, “the data set unveiled today is a far cry from an accurate picture of the program.” He emphasized the need for transparency and oversight for the large stimulus package. “Across the board, there are gaping holes and inconsistencies in the information,” Arensmeyer said in an email to the media. “Serious questions remain about whether PPP funds were equitably distributed to minority-owned businesses, and there is an alarming rate of small-dollar loans.”
Among the recipients are: Trump-connected lobbyists; businesses with ties to the president’s son-in-law and advisor Jared Kusher; members of the “political elite” in Washington; large law firms; rapper Kanye West’s company, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao’s family business and state political organizations.
The watchdog Accountable.US said the release “reveals more evidence of the PPP’s rampant mismanagement.” Although the purpose of the program was to help small business, it “benefited large companies, special interests, and shockingly, states that were largely unharmed by the crisis when the aid was approved.”
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., chairwoman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, published a July 2 letter from the Treasury Department on Monday in which the agency affirmed that the CARES Act is “clear” that the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee can oversee all CARES Act spending. This came after some confusion during Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s House testimony on June 30. “This is a significant victory for oversight and accountability after an erroneous legal opinion seemed to indicate that the Trump administration was manufacturing legal loopholes to undermine Congressional intent—and the PRAC’s authority,” said Maloney.
Several Trump-appointed U.S. ambassadors sold their stock shares (actions that could have made them millions of dollars) as the virus was spreading earlier this year and the president was downplaying the pandemic’s severity. These were the ambassadors to Uruguay, France, Morocco and Italy, according to an investigation by CNBC. “U.S. ambassadors were briefed on potential impacts of the Covid pandemic on State Department operations at the Global Chiefs of Mission Conference February 25-26, 2020,” a State Department spokesman told CNBC. “Otherwise, ambassadors received no briefing on Covid from any U.S. government officials. These financial decisions were among a wide range of purchases and sales to adjust portfolios, often based on advice of financial advisors.”
Public health experts worry that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is being sidelined because it has been “unusually quiet” compared to past health emergencies, according to a RollCall report on Monday. “America remains at the center of a global pandemic and needs well-established, credible scientists—not political appointees—informing public health decisions,” said Infectious Disease Society of America President Thomas File. “As the number of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths surge, CDC leadership is urgently needed to set national guidance for preventing further transmission.”
On Monday, Sens. Rick Scott, R-Fla., and Martha McSally, R-Ariz., introduced the “Affordable Coronavirus Testing Act” to ensure all Americans have access to affordable testing, and that testing information is properly utilized. It would modernize the CDC’s “antiquated” data system to make information sharing easier among doctors, nurses, public health officials and pharmacists, among other things.
The New York Times published a deep dive on the status and process of federal employees returning to workplaces. “Private-sector employers remain hesitant to put workers back in their seat [and] restaurant and bar owners around the country are shutting their doors anew,” meanwhile, “agency chiefs at the nation’s largest employer, the 2.1 million-strong federal government, are taking their cues from an impatient President Trump and summoning employees to their desks.”
A group of Senate Democrats wrote to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week with concerns about military personnel and others living overseas voting absentee amid the pandemic,” The Hill reported on Monday. “The pandemic continues to restrict travel and mail service in many countries around the world,” the senators wrote. “Without proper planning, this could jeopardize the ability for Americans overseas, including U.S. service members and diplomats, to vote in the November election.” The State Department told The Hill they are aware of these issues and are working to ensure all U.S. citizens are able to vote.
The former pharmaceutical executive who is in charge of the White House’s “Operation Warp Speed” to develop a coronavirus vaccine previously misled the public about the risks associated with a drug that caused 80,000 heart attacks. “I know this, because I was the U.S. Senate Finance Committee’s lead investigator on the bipartisan investigation of [pharmaceutical companies GlaxoSmithKline] and Avandia, and our reports found that GSK had bullied critics of the drug, hid data, and misled the public,” wrote Paul Thacker in The Daily Beast on Tuesday. “By testifying ... that the drug was fine and by working with his colleagues to undermine a study that found it was dangerous, [Dr. Moncef Slaoui] assisted GSK’s strategy to deny the drug’s dangers, which ultimately led to a $3 billion federal fine to settle criminal and civil liability charges related to several of the company’s drugs.”
The Trump administration awarded a Maryland-based company that has never brought a product to market the biggest deal to date under “Operation Warp Speed.” Vaccine maker Novavax will receive $1.6 billion to develop 100 million doses of a vaccine by the start of 2021, The New York Times reported on Tuesday.
Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode is about the Federal Election Commission losing its quorum, and thus the ability to perform the majority of its functions, four months before the November elections.
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