President Trump, left, and Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden spar during the first presidential debate Tuesday at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic.

President Trump, left, and Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden spar during the first presidential debate Tuesday at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic. Patrick Semansky/AP

Coronavirus Roundup: Trump and Biden Spar Over Pandemic During Debate; Former FDA Commissioners Condemn Political Interference 

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

During a debate filled with interruptions, cross-talk and insults on Tuesday night, President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden sparred over their respective approaches to managing the coronavirus pandemic, during which over 7 million people have been infected and over 205,000 have died in the United States this year. 

“The president has no plan. He hasn't laid out anything,” said Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee. “He knew all the way back in February how serious this crisis was. He knew it was a deadly disease. What did he do? He's on tape as acknowledging he knew it.”

Trump responded: “If we would've listened to you, the country would have been left wide open, millions of people would have died, not 200,000. I'll tell you, Joe, you could never have done the job that we did. You don't have it in your blood.”

Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed. 

Seven former Food and Drug Administration commissioners wrote an opinion article in The Washington Post on Tuesday about how the Trump administration has been harming the agency’s credibility. This includes the president suggesting he might challenge the FDA’s vaccine standards, political influence in the agency’s communications, and Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn’s initial misstatements about the data used to approve convalescent plasma treatment for the coronavirus, among other things. “We continue to have confidence in the integrity and high-quality scientific work of FDA staff;” however, “the perception of political influence matters,” they wrote. “With more than 750 Americans on average dying a day from COVID-19, the FDA must be supported to play its unique and essential role. Scientists should make decisions based on data, unfettered by political pressure or the intrusions of ideology or vested interests.” 

The pandemic has exacerbated long-term issues at the Indian Health Service, which serves about 2.2 million members of tribal nations. Before the pandemic it “was plagued by shortages of funding and supplies, a lack of doctors and nurses, too few hospital beds and aging facilities,” The New York Times reported on Tuesday. “Now the pandemic has exposed those weaknesses as never before, contributing to the disproportionally high infection and death rates among Native Americans and fueling new anger about what critics say has been decades of neglect from Congress and successive administrations in Washington.” 

During the debate Trump said he disagreed with Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Dr. Moncef Slaoui, the head “Operation Warp Speed” on their assessment that a coronavirus vaccine would be widely available by next summer. “It is a very political thing,” said Trump. “I've spoken to Pfizer, I've spoken to all of the people that you have to speak to, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and others. They can go faster than that by a lot. It's become very political because [of] the left.” 

HHS is facing roadblocks to execute its $300 million public relations campaign to “inspire hope” about the pandemic, Politico reported on Tuesday. “Celebrities are refusing to participate, and staff are arraying against it. Some complain of the unstated aim of helping Trump’s re-election,” said the report. “Others point to an ill-prepared video team and a 22-year-old political appointee who has repeatedly asserted control despite having no public health expertise.” Michael Caputo, top HHS spokesman, spearheaded the initiative before he went on medical leave last week.

The Pentagon is making its coronavirus acquisition task force permanent to help agencies with complex procurement issues. This year it has carried out over $3 billion in contracts for the Health and Human Services Department, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and other agencies, Federal News Network reported on Wednesday. 

Federal agencies are rethinking how they do performance management in the era of telework. “I’m excited to see what comes out of this in terms of how we manage individual behavior and organizational behavior,” said Rebecca Ayers, manager of the Office of Personnel Management’s fee-for-service USA Performance tool, at an webinar on Tuesday. “Now all of a sudden I’m using Slack [or] I’m on [Microsoft] Teams, and I’m now capturing feedback. I’m capturing your performance. I’m capturing work activities in a way we’ve never done before. That could be a catalyst going forward to transform the way we approach performance management,” Federal News Network reported

White House fall garden tours––which the Secret Service and National Park Service help facilitate––will take place October 17-18, with public health precautions, the Office of the First Lady announced on Wednesday. Guests over the age of two must wear masks, visitors must practice social distancing and there will be hand sanitizer available throughout the tour. 

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 newstips@govexec.com.

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