There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.
President Trump said on Tuesday that he believes an agreement on the next coronavirus stimulus package will happen after Election Day (November 3) as he predicted Republicans would keep the Senate and White House and take back the House. The Senate is scheduled to come back on November 9 and the House on November 16. It is unclear how long it will take to count the votes for the election and when winners will be declared, due to the surge of mail-in and absentee ballots. Here are some other recent headlines you might have missed.
The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy listed “ending the COVID-19 pandemic” as one of its accomplishments in the Trump administration's first term in a press release on Monday. “From the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the administration has taken decisive actions to engage scientists and health professionals in academic, industry and government to understand, treat and defeat the disease,” said the release. Four officials working on the White House coronavirus task force expressed their dismay to The Daily Beast since the pandemic is far from over.
The White House office’s accompanying report details its coronavirus-related work, but doesn’t claim the pandemic has ended, as a Yahoo News reporter pointed out. “Today, the Trump administration is continuing its response not only to the pandemic, but also preparing for future biological threats,” it says.
Peter Berkowitz, State Department director of policy planning, tested positive for coronavirus after traveling to Britain, Hungary and France, The Washington Post reported on Tuesday. This led to “concerns about the spread of the virus to high-level officials across the Atlantic, according to four U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the situation,” said the report.
The Defense and Health and Human Services departments announced on Wednesday they reached a $375 million agreement with pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly and Company to purchase the first 300,000 doses of its coronavirus antibody treatment over the next two months. “Under the agreement, the federal government can purchase up to 650,000 additional doses through the end of June 2021 for up to an additional $812.5 million,” said the announcement. The Food and Drug Administration is currently reviewing the treatment for emergency use authorization.
Over 80 medical and health organizations called on the Drug Enforcement Administration to finalize the special registration regulation for telemedicine as the opioid crisis has increased during the pandemic. Under an October 2018 law, the attorney general and HHS were supposed to create a final rule within a year that allows prescribers to prescribe controlled substances virtually under special circumstances. The letter’s co-signers said that “no appreciable progress” has been made. Under the public health emergency for the pandemic, HHS has waived many restrictions for telemedicine and “while we appreciate these PHE-related changes, statute requires the implementation of a permanent regulation,” they wrote on Monday. “Telemedicine is one of the key means of addressing this worsening crisis by expanding access to addiction treatment in underserved communities, rural areas, and communities of color.”
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Tina Smith, D-Minn., asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HHS and Education Department to provide "complete, transparent, and timely national reporting” of coronavirus cases in K-12 schools. In a letter on Tuesday, they criticized Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for saying recently that it is not her department's job to track schools’ reopenings or infection rates.
Dr. Peter Marks, top FDA career official leading the coronavirus vaccine approval process, wrote in USA Today on Tuesday that the vaccine will be “safe and effective” and why Americans can trust the FDA on its development process.
Federal News Network interviewed a Treasury Inspector General official on Tuesday about how the Internal Revenue Service handled tax season while working from home. The filing deadline for tax season was extended to July 15 and then returns put on extension were due by October. “They’re still dealing with some significant challenges in terms of backlogs of unopened mail, unprocessed returns, but they are trying to use some different approaches to deal with that,” said Russ Martin, associate Treasury IG for tax administration. “They’re also looking at ways to [transfer] work to other centers. Challenges exist for that, because some centers can only process certain types of work. But overall, I think they’re working through what has been a significant challenge.”
The Homeland Security IG released a report on Tuesday that said the agency has improved efforts since 2016 to secure U.S. voting systems, but could do more to protect the polling and voting locations, storage facilities and other related infrastructure from physical security risks and terrorism. “Given increased targeted violence in recent years and the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the risk to our nation’s critical infrastructure sectors has changed dramatically since 2013,” said the report. “While attacks on physical election infrastructure locations and assets are rare, CISA should consider both physical and cyber threats as part of a comprehensive understanding of the threat and incorporate them in its election security and resilience planning.” CISA Director Chris Krebs said that while his agency can definitely do more, he believes voting will be secure and said the publication of the report was “poorly timed” since the election is so close, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The Interior IG published an update on Tuesday on how the Interior Department has used its CARES Act funds. As of September 30, it expedited 60.1% and obligated 72.4% of the $909.7 million it received from the stimulus package.
The Agriculture Department recently authorized a fourth round of contracts for its pandemic food assistance program and it told Government Executive on Tuesday, “as a whole, there has been an overwhelmingly positive response to the program from producers, distributors, and the American people,” when asked about the reports of mismanagement and politicization in the program. “In a little more than six months, the food box program went from an idea to a reality that has provided more than 110 million boxes of nutritious foods to people in need,” said the USDA spokesperson. “USDA provides oversight throughout the contract period, conducting robust audits to ensure food safety plans are followed, that only domestic produce is provided and that quality products are delivered, among other contract administration matters.”
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