Coronavirus Roundup: FEMA Head Says There’s ‘A Ways to Go’ on Securing Equipment; Oversight Committee Outlines Five-Year Plan
There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and White House coronavirus task force member, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Washington Nationals’ Opening Day game on Thursday. The Major League Baseball season was supposed to start on March 26. “Dr. Fauci has been a true champion for our country during the COVID-19 pandemic and throughout his distinguished career,” said the Nationals’ official statement. “It is only fitting that we honor him as we kick off the 2020 season and defend our World Series Championship title.” Here are some other recent headlines you might have missed.
On Wednesday, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee advanced five coronavirus-related bills. They addressed supply chain issues, critical infrastructure designations and interagency preparations for future pandemics.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., sent a list of questions to the company the Trump administration awarded a $10.2 million contract to create a coronavirus reporting system for the Health and Human Services Department that replaced the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s system. The lawmakers want to know how and why it got this contract because it “represents a sudden and significant departure from the way the federal government has collected public health data regarding infectious diseases in the past.” They asked for responses by August 3.
Four senators (three Democratic and one Independent) said on Thursday they wrote to Vice President Mike Pence with inquiries on how the administration is going to handle the long-term health impacts of the pandemic. “As CDC and [the National Institutes of Health] continue to conduct and coordinate research efforts, it is critical that the agencies collect, analyze and disseminate data on the long-term impacts and severity of the disease, conduct research to understand the risks, and appropriately inform policymakers, the public and medical professionals of them,” they wrote.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Pete Gaynor testified on Wednesday the nation has “a ways to go” on having enough personal protective equipment. “We're going to have to improve the industrial base to make these critical items in the US so we're not at the whim of our global competitors,” he said, according to a report in The Hill. In a related manner, also on Wednesday, Democratic senators called for a vote on a bill that would designate an official to oversee the medical supply chain and increase public reporting on the procurement process during the pandemic. Read more from Government Executive here.
On Thursday, the Defense Department published an update on travel restrictions at military installations. So far, restrictions have been lifted at 92 of 231 facilities (about 40%).
On Wednesday, Federal News Network reported on how the Environmental Protection Agency is preparing for “phase three” of bringing employees back to workplaces, which is considered the most “normal” situation. The agency will allow some to remain on telework and provide alternative work schedule opportunities and partial telework for others. However, the reopening plans are still a point of contention between the agency and the union representing its employees. Last weekend, the American Federation of Government Employees sent a critical letter to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler in response to the phase three reopening guidance issued last week. “It was issued as if COVID-l9 was not out of control,” wrote Gary Morton, president of AFGE Council 23S. The union said it was caught “off guard” since it is already in the process of bargaining with the agency on phases one and two.
The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, established by the CARES Act, released its 2020-2025 strategic plan on Thursday. The main goals are: detect waste, fraud and abuse; promote transparency; facilitate coordinated oversight; and operate effectively as a committee.
On Thursday, the Justice Department inspector general released reports on how two Federal Bureau of Prisons locations have handled the coronavirus so far, which “present very different situations.” While a low security federal correctional institution in Lompoc, California, had a massive virus outbreak and operational issues, a high security penitentiary in Tucson, Arizona, had few infections among staff and inmates and handled the situation effectively within the institution. Government Executive previously reported that BOP opened a hospital at the Lompoc location due to the surge in coronavirus cases.
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency announced on Wednesday it brought on two leading cybersecurity experts to support its coronavirus response. “The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in noticeable shifts in cyber risk calculations for organizations of all sizes. The hardware, software and services that underpin our connected infrastructure have absolutely been tested and stressed in this telework-heavy environment. At the same time, certain organizations and sectors of our economy have become more attractive targets for adversaries,” said CISA Director Christopher Krebs. “The authority granted to us by the CARES Act makes it possible to quickly recruit and add top experts to our team.”
A deep dive by ProPublica looks at how the Election Assistance Commission’s long-term issues are playing out during the pandemic as many states have expanded vote-by-mail options. “With the pandemic bearing down for the long haul and state officials begging for help, the commission has neglected key responsibilities or ceded them to other agencies—and two of its commissioners are parroting President Donald Trump’s unfounded warnings about voting by mail,” said the report published on Wednesday.
The American Small Business League announced on Wednesday it filed a lawsuit against the Small Business Administration under the Freedom of Information Act after the agency refused to release all recipient names and amounts of Paycheck Protection Program loans. The league believes that minority-owned firms were “largely ignored” and most loans went to large companies instead of small businesses in need.
Upcoming: President Trump will hold a news conference at 5 p.m.
Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode looks at how the government can make coronavirus data more accessible for the public to obtain and analyze.
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 email@example.com