Coronavirus Roundup: Former CDC Directors Condemn Politicization of the Agency; Majority of Feds Say Telework Boosts Productivity
There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.
Wednesday is Tax Day, which was extended three months due to disruptions for tax filers from the pandemic and the Internal Revenue Service’s shift to majority telework. Amid all this, the IRS and Treasury Department worked to distribute about 160.4 million stimulus checks worth $269.3 billion as required by CARES Act for coronavirus relief. Here are some other recent headlines you might have missed.
Seventy percent of federal employees say they are more productive working from home, according to a new survey by Eagle Hill Consulting. Additionally, 68% of federal employees currently teleworking want to continue doing so. “This research tells us that teleworking really can and is working across government,” said Melissa Jezior, Eagle Hill president and chief executive officer. “We’ve seen agencies trending away from telework, but the pandemic forced a rapid transition in the exact opposite direction. Overwhelmingly, employees are embracing teleworking and this may be a defining moment for how the federal government operates and serves the public.”
Ahead of a House hearing on Tuesday, the Government Accountability Office published a report on the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s current and potential future challenges in responding to the coronavirus. The watchdog covered contracting, medical supply acquisition and distribution, deploying disaster workers, interagency planning and after-action reporting. “As the government looks to the future and takes steps to plan, prepare and respond to future biological incidents of national concern, addressing the [prior] recommendations we have made to better address capability gaps can help better position the nation for what comes next,” said Chris Currie, director of GAO’s Homeland Security and Justice Team.
Top House Democrats wrote to the Health and Human Services and the Defense departments on Tuesday with concerns that they haven’t adequately used their CARES Act funds to fully boost domestic production of personal protective gear and testing supplies using the Defense Production Act. “Since the onset of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, the United States has faced repeated shortages,” they wrote. “With new coronavirus cases rising to over 60,000 per day, the highest number of cases since the beginning of the pandemic, and infection and hospitalization rates increasing in states such as Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia and Texas, it is critical to address the shortfalls that are inevitable.”
The federal stockpile of personal protective equipment is lean and might not be able to accommodate a second coronavirus wave, according to internal documents obtained by NBC News. “The Strategic National Stockpile and the [FEMA] have fewer than 900,000 gloves in reserve after shipping 82.7 million of them—or just 30% of the amount requested by state, local and tribal governments—since the COVID-19 crisis began,” said the report. “Nonetheless, Adm. John Polowczyk, the chief supply-chain official for the White House coronavirus task force, maintained in an interview with NBC News on Tuesday that the supply situation is ‘just not that dire.’”
Four former directors of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention decried the administration's politicization of the agency in a Washington Post article on Tuesday. The agency’s “sound science is being challenged with partisan potshots, sowing confusion and mistrust at a time when the American people need leadership, expertise and clarity...Public servants have been harassed, threatened and forced to resign when we need them most,” they wrote. “Willful disregard for public health guidelines is, unsurprisingly, leading to a sharp rise in infections and deaths.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Robert Redfield, the current CDC director, said: “I do think the fall and the winter of 2020 and 2021 are going to be the probably one of the most difficult times that we experienced in American public health,” during a webinar on Tuesday.
Starting on Wednesday, the Trump administration is ordering the Health and Human Service Department––not the CDC––to collect daily coronavirus data reports from hospitals. Officials claim this is to streamline the process and better assist the White House coronavirus task force. However, “Historically, CDC has been the place where public health data has been sent, and this raises questions about not just access for researchers but access for reporters, access for the public to try to better understand what is happening with the outbreak," said Jen Kates, director of global health and HIV policy with the Kaiser Family Foundation, The New York Times reported on Tuesday.
White House Trade Adviser Peter Navarro attacked Dr. Anthony Fauci in a USA Today article on Tuesday. “Fauci has a good bedside manner with the public, but he has been wrong about everything I have interacted with him on,” Navarro wrote. Fauci has been the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984 and has served under six presidential administrations, both Democratic and Republican.
On Wednesday, the White House distanced itself from the article. “The Peter Navarro op-ed didn’t go through normal White House clearance processes and is the opinion of Peter alone,” White House Director of Strategic Communications Alyssa Farah tweeted. “[Trump] values the expertise of the medical professionals advising his administration.”
Buzzfeed News obtained a letter to Congress from medical experts hired by the Homeland Security Department who wrote that separating immigrant families during the pandemic could “exacerbate [their] physical and mental trauma.” Read more from Government Executive on the spread of coronavirus in Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities.
On Tuesday, a group of House Republicans wrote to Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., asking him to include a temporary Occupational Safety and Health Administration emergency standard in the next coronavirus relief package, Politico reported. The lawmakers wrote that this standard would help protect business from liabilities if their employees or customers get infected.
Over 1,300 companies backed by private equity investors received Paycheck Protection Program loans from the Small Business Administration, according to an investigation by the Project On Government Oversight and the Anti-Corruption Data Collective published in The Daily Beast on Wednesday. The loans were between $1.5 billion and $3.4 billion as the data recently released gave a range, as opposed to specific numbers.
Retired Gen. Joseph Dunford, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, withdrew from consideration to lead the congressional commission established by the CARES Act to oversee relief funds, Politico reported on Tuesday. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., must select the head of the five-member commission.
The nonprofit Citizens Against Government Waste warned of the growing national debt in its annual “Pig Book” released on Wednesday that details what it deems as wasteful use of federal funds. “A January 2020 Congressional Budget Office report forecast an average annual deficit of $1.3 trillion between fiscal years 2021 and 2030, rising to $1.7 trillion by the end of the decade, adding $12.4 trillion to the national debt and bringing it to $36.2 trillion,” said the report. “That estimate was made prior to the outbreak of COVID-19 and the subsequent health care crisis and economic shutdown. One estimate suggests that the pandemic will add $8 trillion to CBO’s fiscal 2030 projection, for a total of $44.2 trillion.”
On Wednesday, the Treasury Department inspector general sent a letter to American Samoa’s Treasury Department about a misuse of CARES Act funds. “Since Fono (legislature) members were already in telework capacity prior to COVID-19 due to the ongoing construction of the legislative building, we believe the stipend payments of $20,000 and $10,000, respectively, are unrelated to the COVID-19 health emergency,” said the letter. Therefore, “we request that payments issued to Fono members are returned to the American Samoa Government for future uses related to addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The Defense IG published an updated coronavirus oversight plan on Wednesday. “Maintaining readiness and conducting ongoing operations while adhering to COVID-19 restrictions; ensuring access to and quality of health care for service members and their families; and ensuring appropriate financial management and accountability of COVID-19 related funds” are some of the department's ongoing challenges. The IG also outlined its new and ongoing investigations.
Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode is a special edition to celebrate our 100th show. It looks at the almost six months of the federal response to the pandemic from workforce, oversight and leadership standpoints.
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