Coronavirus Roundup: Top HHS and CDC Officials to Depart; Fiscal 2022 Research and Development Goals Focus on Pandemic
There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.
The Health and Human Services chief information officer resigned abruptly on Friday, Federal News Network first reported. Jose Arrieta has been at the agency for 16 months and said that he would be flexible with his leave date in order to make a smooth transition. “I want to spend time with [my] kids, who like most kids are going to school online,” he told Federal News Network. “Learning via Zoom isn’t easy for 5 and 8 year olds. I’m sad to leave people in HHS and the OCIO office is the best group I’ve ever worked with. This is the most I’ve felt at home during my entire career.” This comes after the Trump administration ordered hospitals in mid-July to start reporting their coronavirus data to a private contractor through HHS, instead of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Here are some other recent headlines from over the weekend and today that you might have missed.
The CDC chief of staff and deputy chief of staff announced on Friday they’re leaving their posts to start a consulting venture. “We picked this day on the calendar and left to start our own business,” former chief of staff Kyle McGowan told Politico. “No one has asked us to leave. No one has forced us to leave.”
Rear Adm. Sylvia Trent-Adams, principal deputy assistant secretary for health, is retiring after almost 30 years in the Public Health Service, Politico reported on Monday. She previously served as deputy surgeon general under the Obama and Trump administrations and briefly served as acting surgeon general early in the Trump era.
The Office of Management and Budget released guidance on Friday on the administration's research and development priorities for fiscal 2022, which include a new priority to address the pandemic and resulting recession. This “brings under a single, comprehensive umbrella biomedical and biotechnology R&D aimed at responding to the pandemic and ensuring the U.S. [science and technology] enterprise is maximally prepared for any health-related threats,” wrote OMB Director Russell Vought.
Teletracking Technologies, the company HHS contracted to manage coronavirus data, largely couldn’t answer questions from Senate Democrats on the contract they received due to a non-disclosure agreement. “TeleTracking recognizes your concerns and seeks to fully cooperate in response to your questions regarding the contract,” said a letter obtained by The New York Times. “However, we are obligated to advise you that the contract is subject to a broad non-disclosure agreement that restricts TeleTracking's release of non-public information, including, but not limited to, confidential privileged and procurement-sensitive information. Notwithstanding these contractual restrictions, we are pleased to cooperate and provide other information, as permitted, in response to your letter.”
Top members of the House Natural Resources Committee led a group of House Democrats in writing to the Interior Department with concerns about the National Park Service’s reopening process for locations that closed during the pandemic. “Despite NPS’s own policy to ‘ensure expansions of public access are considerate of state and local health guidance,’ the agency is not requiring masks or enforcing social distancing at units located within states or localities with a mandatory mask requirement,” wrote the lawmakers. “Operating during the pandemic, which has only intensified since our last correspondence, continues to be complex and complicated and requires full transparency.” They asked for answers to their list of questions by August 31.
President Trump announced last week that Dr. Scott Atlas, Hoover Institution fellow and former chief of neuroradiology at Stanford University Medical Center, joined the White House Coronavirus Task Force as a pandemic adviser. He is a frequent guest on Fox news and despite having “no expertise in public health or infectious diseases...he has long been a critic of coronavirus lockdowns and has campaigned for kids to return to the classroom and for the return of college sports, just like Trump,” The Associated Press reported on Sunday.
Trump has expressed interest in a second unproven drug to treat the coronavirus, which Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson also backs and in which MyPillow Founder and CEO Mike Lindell, an ally of the president, has a financial stake. The drug is oleandrin, a botanical extract, Axios reported on Sunday.
Rep. James Clyburn, chairman of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, is seeking information on potential conflicts of interest with the members of “Operation Warp Speed,” the Trump administration’s effort to develop a coronavirus vaccine, and transparency on the process. He sent letters to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, chief vaccine advisor Moncef Slaoui, and David Harris, president and CEO of Advanced Decision Vectors, a private consulting firm that the federal government contracted to advise on the vaccine development efforts. Clyburn requested responses to his questions by August 26.
HHS and the Defense Department said on Friday that the large health care company McKesson Corporation would help them distribute the coronavirus vaccine if and when one is approved. The CDC is using a pre-existing contract with the company, which also helped distribute the H1N1 vaccine in 2009 and 2010, said the announcement.
Separately, on Monday, the departments said they awarded $750,000 to manufacturing company Plasma Technologies to develop a process to yield higher quantities of convalescent plasma, which is from recovered coronavirus patients and could help those currently suffering.
The CDC is starting a new public awareness campaign to encourage individuals to get flu shots in order to prepare for flu season during the pandemic and proactively reduce the burden on hospitals. Additionally, pharmaceutical companies (several of which are involved in “Operation Warp Speed”) are producing about 200 million flu shots this year, which is up 13% from last year, The Wall Street Journal reported.
On Friday, Rep. Fred Keller, R-Pa., led the launch of a bipartisan Federal Bureau of Prisons reform caucus to address the pandemic and increase accountability and transparency for long-term issues affecting staff and inmates. “With a $7 billion budget, more than 36,000 employees, and 172,000 inmates, BOP is a massive government agency, yet its leadership in Washington, D.C., lacks adequate congressional oversight,” said Keller. “The continued movement of inmates across the nation during a pandemic and the most recent outbreak[s] of COVID-19 in [Pennsylvania facilities] are proof that the policies BOP set in place to mitigate the spread of the disease have failed.”
The Internal Revenue Service announced on Friday it reopened registration for people with children to receive the $500 stimulus payments for the children, if they didn’t already. The online portal will be open until September 30.
House Science, Space and Technology Committee members introduced legislation on Friday to establish an early career postdoctoral fellowship program at the National Science Foundation for researchers whose positions were impacted by the pandemic. Between the limited access to laboratories and economic recession, “I am deeply concerned about the disappearance of STEM job opportunities and the potential long-term consequences for our STEM pipeline,” said Committee Chairwoman Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement has detained at least 860 migrants in hotels, overseen by a private security contractor and outside the purview of federal regulations, under its emergency directive to expel migrants during the pandemic. “More than 100,000 migrants, including children and families, have been summarily expelled,” The New York Times reported on Sunday. “But rather than deterring additional migration, the policy appears to have caused border crossings to surge, in part because it eliminates some of the legal consequences for repeat attempts at illegal crossings.” ICE is using the hotels to detain migrants while it secures return flights.
Federal News Network interviewed two college students interning virtually at the State and Transportation departments this summer. “I definitely missed the physical element of being in D.C.,” said Sarah Stevens, who interned at the State Department’s Office of Central European Affairs. “But I also met everybody else in the Office of Central European Affairs, and something my supervisor would do was, she would bring different people in different departments on our weekly meeting calls so we could ask them questions. So she really tried to bring more of a community feel into it.”
The nonprofit Committee for a Responsible Budget launched a coronavirus-spending tracker on Monday to follow funding authorized and spent by Congress, the Trump administration and Federal Reserve. Of the trillions committed so far, $587 billion was through administrative actions, $3.8 trillion was through legislative actions, and $7 trillion was through Federal Reserve actions.
As part of Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s crosscutting budget review, Defense officials are looking at cutting military health care costs by $2.2 billion over the next five years. Two “senior defense officials say the effort has been rushed and driven by an arbitrary cost-savings goal, and argue that the cuts to the system will imperil the health care of millions of military personnel and their families as the nation grapples with COVID-19,” Politico reported on Sunday.
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