There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.
After floating the idea on Twitter on Thursday morning that the election could be delayed, President Trump spent a considerable amount of time during a briefing in the evening rallying against vote-by-mail because he believes it's susceptible to fraud. He claimed absentee voting is “different,” but election experts note the two are essentially the same thing. According to an analysis by The Washington Post, at least 77% of Americans can vote by mail in the fall and 17 states changed their laws to allow this due to the coronavirus outbreak.
On Friday, 50 democracy, civil rights and various other groups wrote to the president to remind him that only Congress has the power to delay Election Day, which is on November 3 this year. Federal Election Commission Democratic Commissioner Ellen Weintraub and Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., ranking member of the House Administration Committee, tweeted similar remarks on Thursday. Here are some other recent headlines you might have missed.
The State Department entered phase two of its reopening plan for the Washington D.C. area, which allows up to 80% of its workforce to come back, despite concerns from the American Foreign Service Association and others representing federal employees. During a hearing on Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said agency offices have the “discretion to decide what’s best for their teams and their rotations,” Federal News Network reported on Friday.
A U.S. Trade and Patent Office senior aide told Politico on Thursday that “it’s not just Congress” where individuals feel they can’t wear masks because Trump didn’t wear one for months and, as a result, employees feel unsafe. “At my agency within the Executive Office of the President, my Cabinet official, Amb. Robert Lighthizer, has been on at least four flights to/from Palm Beach in the last 10 days and yet does not wear a mask in the office. Nor does his staff,” said the aide. “And yet Lighthizer wants career staff to come to the office in order to report to the White House that our operations are getting back to normal and is furious that we are refusing.”
However, the agency disputed this characterization. “It is untrue to suggest that USTR staff are being forced to come into the office during the pandemic,” said Jeffrey Emerson, a spokesperson. “Our agency remains in a state of ‘maximum telework’ and has since mid-March. In fact, all career staff are working from home and only a very few come into the office on occasion when necessary. In addition, Ambassador Lighthizer is regularly tested for the coronavirus.”
The Health and Human Services inspector general updated its question and answer page regarding its administrative enforcement of authorities in relation to the coronavirus. The IG has been accepting and responding to questions from the health care providers about how it would view their situations during the public health emergency. This is part of its “mission to promote economy, efficiency and effectiveness in HHS programs” and provide “regulatory flexibility necessary to adequately respond to COVID-19 concerns.”
On Thursday, Moncef Slaoui, chief adviser of the Trump administration’s vaccine development efforts, told CNN he believes the coronavirus vaccine will be “very effective” and “in the 90%” range. Government Executive reported earlier this week on how a bipartisan group of lawmakers asked the Government Accountability Office to do periodic reviews of “Operation Warp Speed” to bolster the oversight, management and scientific expertise of the process.
Last week, Trump said his administration is “in the process of developing a strategy that's going to be very, [very] powerful,” to combat the pandemic. When asked what the strategy was during the briefing on Thursday evening, he said, “I think you’re seeing it and you will see it.” He then spoke about the process to develop a vaccine.
The Defense Department and the CDC will be working together to distribute coronavirus vaccines, which is a task the CDC has traditionally done on its own. Defense “is handling all the logistics of getting the vaccines to the right place, at the right time, in the right condition,” a senior official said on Thursday. The CDC will still be in charge of tracking potential side effects of the vaccine and “some of the communications through the state relationships [and] the state public health organizations,” Politico reported.
“A small number” of sailors assigned to the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush tested positive for coronavirus this summer. The carrier isn’t deployed currently and there hasn’t been an impact on readiness, Cmdr. Jennifer Cragg, spokeswoman for the Naval Air Force Atlantic, told the Navy Times on Thursday.
The House Small Business Committee and Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis launched an investigation on Thursday into a $500 million contract the Small Business Administration awarded to administer emergency loans during the pandemic. “We are concerned by reports that millions of small businesses seeking emergency loans have faced long delays, poor service and processing errors,” they wrote. “As the committees of jurisdiction, it is our duty to ensure that taxpayer money is being spent efficiently, effectively and equitably.” The lawmakers asked for responses to their list of questions and a staff briefing by August 13.
GAO issued a report on Thursday about data collection methods and techniques for the coronavirus. Based on its analysis from May to July, the watchdog said that researchers and decision makers should be aware of the possible “limitations in consistency and completeness” in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's data. This week, Government Executive interviewed former CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden about the Trump administration’s recent order for hospitals to start reporting their coronavirus data to a private contractor through the Health and Human Services Department, instead of the CDC.
On Thursday, Sens. Gary Peters, D-Mich., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, introduced a bipartisan bill that would extend GI benefits for up to 120 days for veterans whose required apprenticeships were cut short due to the pandemic. Veterans must complete apprenticeships in order to receive their monthly housing allowances.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said during a briefing on Friday that funding for a new FBI building, which Senate Republicans included in their coronavirus relief package introduced on Monday, “is not a redline” and that the White House’s priority is unemployment insurance and ensuring Americans are not evicted. Beforehand, she noted the three previous coronavirus bills had things in them that were not related to the pandemic.
Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode discusses the deployment and now process of withdrawal of federal agents to the ongoing protests in Portland, Oregon for racial justice.
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.