Pete Gaynor, right, FEMA administrator, holds up a hurricane preparedness pamphlet as he speaks during a news conference along with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, left, at the Miami-Dade Emergency Operations Center in June.

Pete Gaynor, right, FEMA administrator, holds up a hurricane preparedness pamphlet as he speaks during a news conference along with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, left, at the Miami-Dade Emergency Operations Center in June. Wilfredo Lee / AP

Coronavirus Roundup: Concern Over FEMA Vacancies; Senator Asks CDC to Use its Special Enforcement Authority 

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

Audiences of Republican U.S. governors’ social media accounts showed much less worry during the ongoing pandemic and less concern about isolation compared to the Democratic followers, according to a recent analysis, shared exclusively with Government Executive, by StatSocial, a social media analytics firm. “America is going through a fractious, traumatic time right now, and we see that reflected all over the political and social spectrum through social media engagement,” said Michael Hussey, president and founder of StatSocial. “These sorts of targeted insights paint a detailed picture of the national experience, and they’ll likely play a significant role in the upcoming election.” Here are a few other recent headlines you might have missed. 

In a report published on Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency inspector general identified “maintaining operations during pandemic and natural disaster responses” as a top management challenge for 2020 and 2021. In particular contract oversight and regulatory enforcement are some areas of concern. “During the coronavirus pandemic, the EPA has made many adjustments to programs and operations…[which] create new risks that the agency will not identify or address noncompliance,” said the report. “Reduction in regulatory and enforcement activity places the EPA’s mission at greater risk and threatens the agency’s overall mission to protect human health and the environment.” 

A group of top House Democrats wrote to Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Peter Gaynor on Tuesday with concerns about the vacancies in senior leadership positions at the agency. “FEMA’s capabilities are already stretched thin” due to the pandemic, hurricane and wildfire season and recoveries from disasters in recent years, they wrote. “Any of these vacancies or decisions in isolation could be understandable, but together they are indicative of a pattern of neglect.” 

The State Department ordered China to close its consulate in Houston in order to protect U.S. citizens’ privacy and American intellectual property, Politico reported on Wednesday. This came a day after the Justice Department indicted two Chinese nationals for allegedly stealing coronavirus research and other trade secrets from the United States over a period of over 10 years. Read more from NextGov here.  

President Trump said the coronavirus “will probably, unfortunately, get worse before it gets better” and the virus will eventually “disappear,” during a briefing on Tuesday evening. He also said there are almost National Guard troops and military medical personnel in California, Texas, Arizona and Florida, which have become the new virus hotspots. 

Top public health leaders and coronavirus task force members Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx were not present at the Tuesday briefing. When asked why, Trump said, “Well, Dr. Birx is right outside.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention if it plans to use its authorities under the Public Health Service Act to implement and enforce public health measures in states experiencing surges in coronavirus cases. The law allows for such action “in the event of inadequate local control,” she said. She asked for an answer by July 31. 

The wife of the Health and Human Services deputy secretary was hired in June to lobby the agency. She is lobbying for major pharmaceutical and nursing home clients, despite having no background in health care, Stat News reported on Tuesday. 

HHS and the Defense Department announced on Wednesday they reached a deal with U.S.-based pharmaceutical firm Pfizer and German biotechnology company Biotech for wide-scale production and delivery of a coronavirus vaccine once one is approved. “Depending on success in clinical trials, today’s agreement will enable the delivery of approximately 100 million doses of vaccine being developed by [the companies],” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. 

The Internal Revenue Service recovered about 70% of the $1.6 billion in coronavirus stimulus payments sent to dead people. However, the agency said that number is on the lower side because it expects to receive more checks as staff return to offices and go through the mail backlog, Federal News Network reported on Wednesday. 

Upcoming: President Trump will hold a news conference at 5:30 p.m.

Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode looks at how the federal government can improve hiring and retention. 

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