There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.
Labor Day weekend was the third summer holiday during which public health experts were warning individuals to follow their local public health guidelines and be mindful of risks that could lead to further spread of the coronavirus. As Labor Day marks the unofficial end to summer, it also raised concerns about ushering in a second wave of the virus in the fall.
“On #LaborDay, we pay tribute to the contributions and achievements of U.S. workers,” Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn tweeted on Monday. “FDA’s 17,000+ professional staff remain a powerful example of public service through science and data-driven decisions on behalf of the American people during the #COVID19 pandemic.” Here are some other recent headlines from over the holiday weekend and today that you might have missed.
The Defense inspector general reported last Thursday that the Defense Health Agency and regional contractors took adequate action to safeguard coronavirus-related TRICARE payments from fraud and prevent improper payments. However, auditors noted that since the pandemic is “dynamic and evolving,” the health agency should continue “address[ing] controlling costs and preventing fraudulent providers from exploiting the health system.”
On Tuesday, the Federal Housing Finance Agency IG published a status update on the multi-agency investigation on use of Paycheck Protection Program relief funds at members of the Federal Home Loan Bank system, a coalition of government-sponsored banks. So far, the IG, along with its law enforcement partners, “identified $60.5 million in PPP funds allegedly sought or obtained through fraud in connection with eight individuals against whom federal criminal charges have been filed,” said the report. Of the eight individuals, one pleaded guilty and one is awaiting sentencing.
CyberScoop News published an exclusive report on Tuesday about the FBI; National Security Agency; and Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and Defense departments’ initiative to defend the government’s coronavirus research from hacking attempts. “Right now the activity we’re seeing is espionage, but much later, it could be disruptions and delays to production and manufacturing,” said Bryan Ware, the assistant director of cybersecurity at DHS’ Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. “Because [Operation Warp Speed] has us moving at a very, very fast pace, we’re not just interested in trying to reduce the risks that we’re seeing today, we’re trying to reduce the risks that we’re going to see next year.”
The Government Accountability Office issued a report late last week on the use of CARES Act funds to give contractors sick or paid leave during the pandemic if they are not able to access their worksites or telework. Based on its review of the seven agencies with the largest contract obligations in fiscal 2019, GAO found that initial discrepancies in guidance from the Office of Management and Budget and the agencies themselves were addressed. It also reported that the Defense Department contractors received the most reimbursements so far; meanwhile, other agencies are using other sources of funds for financial relief.
Former pharmaceutical executive Moncef Slaoui, who is leading the Trump administration’s coronavirus vaccine development efforts, told Science Magazine the vaccine authorization process is “absolutely shielded from the politics” and vowed to “immediately resign if there is undue influence.” With less than two months until the presidential election, there are fears that the FDA will expedite approval of a vaccine to help Trump’s election chances.
Related, the heads of nine major drug companies issued a joint statement on Tuesday to affirm their commitment to “high ethical standards and sound scientific principles” and said they won’t seek approval for their coronavirus drugs before they are proven effective in clinical trials. “We believe this pledge will help ensure public confidence in the rigorous scientific and regulatory process by which COVID-19 vaccines are evaluated and may ultimately be approved,” they wrote. Also, Hahn tweeted on Tuesday that he’ll be using Twitter as a way to showcase the FDA’s progress on the vaccine and considerations for his staff “in bringing a safe [and] effective #COVID19 vaccine to the American public.”
Starting on Wednesday, the FDA will be seeking public comment on coronavirus documents already published and implemented, but still subject to comment under the “agency’s good guidance practices,” according to a notice posted in the Federal Register on Tuesday. The agency began publishing these guidance memos (on topics such as hand sanitizers and virus sample collection) in March when the president declared a public health emergency for the coronavirus.
Homeland Security Department Chief Human Capital Officer Angela Bailey told Federal News Network she predicts post-pandemic there will be a “hybrid situation” between telework and in-person work, for employees who are able. “We’re already starting to talk about things like what do you do with these [General Services Administration] buildings? ... Do you take the money that you had in building out office space, and instead you invested in more advanced IT equipment for the employees so that they can do their job at home even better than they do it today?” she said. “So those are the kinds of conversations we’re starting to have now versus how do we get everybody back to work? That’s not the conversation. The conversation is ... how do you make sure that a ...crisis does not go to waste?”
Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode is about how employers can bring employees back into offices safely and mitigate any spread of coronavirus.
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