Dr. Rick Bright, former vaccine director turned whistleblower, resigned from the role to which he was reassigned at NIH.

Dr. Rick Bright, former vaccine director turned whistleblower, resigned from the role to which he was reassigned at NIH. Health and Human Services via AP

Coronavirus Roundup: More Top Officials Test Positive or Go Into Quarantine; HHS Whistleblower Resigns

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

President Trump tweeted on Tuesday afternoon that he instructed his negotiators to cease talks on another economic stimulus package until “immediately after I win,” the election. “Nancy Pelosi is asking for $2.4 Trillion Dollars to bailout poorly run, high crime, Democrat States, money that is in no way related to COVID-19,” Trump tweeted.

Then at night he tweeted: “The House & Senate should IMMEDIATELY Approve 25 Billion Dollars for Airline Payroll Support, & 135 Billion Dollars for Paycheck Protection Program for Small Business. Both of these will be fully paid for with unused funds from the Cares Act. Have this money. I will sign now!” He also tweeted he would sign a standalone bill for a second round of stimulus checks. However, on Wednesday, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said, “the stimulus negotiations are off.” Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed. 

On Tuesday, the White House agreed to the Food and Drug Administration's stricter guidelines to approve a coronavirus vaccine, after initially raising objections. This makes it highly unlikely that a vaccine will be approved before Election Day, The Wall Street Journal reported

However, on Tuesday night the president pushed back. “New FDA Rules make it more difficult for them to speed up vaccines for approval before Election Day,” he tweeted. “Just another political hit job!”

Former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. William Foege, who led the eradication of smallpox and served under Democratic and Republican administrations, wrote to current director Dr. Robert Redfield on September 23 asking him to expose the political interference at his agency during the pandemic, USA Today reported on Tuesday. “Despite the White House spin attempts, this will go down as a colossal failure of the public health system of this country,” Foege wrote in the letter, published by The New York Times. “Resigning is a one day story and you will be replaced. But you could send a letter to CDC employees (a letter leaves a record and avoids the chance of making a mistake with a speech) laying out the facts.”

Moncef Slaoui, co-chair of Operation Warp Speed, spoke at an event on Tuesday about how the Trump administration’s push to fast-track approval of a vaccine has impacted manufacturers, Stat News reported. “The one learning message that we came to … was to recommend to the companies that we are supporting that if they achieve efficacy demonstration [of their vaccine] while there are no vaccine doses available at industrial scale … to be able to immunize at least a relevant fraction of the population, that they should refrain or at least consider refraining for filing for an [emergency use authorization],” he said. It would be  “a major disappointment” to the public if a vaccine was approved, but it wasn’t widely available. 

Dr. Rick Bright, former vaccine director turned whistleblower, resigned from the role at the National Institutes of Health to which he was reassigned. He said he received no work in the new role. “Dr. Bright was forced to leave his position at NIH because he can no longer sit idly by and work for an administration that ignores scientific expertise, overrules public health guidance and disrespects career scientists, resulting the [sic.] in the sickness and death of hundreds of thousands of Americans," said his lawyers Debra Katz and Lisa Banks in a statement, Politico reported

In Bright’s amended whistleblower complaint it says that it has been discussed that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief-of-Staff Mark Meadows “were making decisions and giving directives for sole source procurements of specific diagnostics, ignoring the doubts and concerns expressed by NIH diagnostic subject matter experts.”

The Office of the First Lady outlined on Tuesday how the White House is protecting staff in the residence, which is “a paramount concern” for the president’s family. “Since March, the residence has adopted hospital-grade disinfection policies, had the White House Medical Unit lead coronavirus workshops so staff could have their concerns addressed, significantly reduced staff, and encouraged maximum teleworking,” said the release. “The residence also installed additional sanitization and filtration systems throughout the executive mansion.”

Senior Pentagon leadership is quarantining after Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard Adm. Charles Ray tested positive for coronavirus. This includes Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and at least three more members of the Joint Chiefs, which has eight members. National Security Agency Director Gen. Paul Nakasone was also in the meeting where there was potential exposure, so he is also in quarantine, Defense One reported

Stephen Miller, senior adviser to the president, tested positive for coronavirus on Tuesday. “Over the last 5 days I have been working remotely and self-isolating, testing negative every day through yesterday,” he said in a statement. “Today, I tested positive for COVID-19 and am in quarantine,” Politico reported

The Wall Street Journal found that companies in the K Street area of D.C. (known as the business district) got their Paycheck Protection Program loans from the Small Business Administration much faster than those in the low-income area east of the Anacostia River, where “commercial areas are dotted with small Black-owned firms, non-profit organizations and churches.” There is concern that “the pandemic and the shortcomings of the government relief efforts will only exacerbate the gap between white- and Black-owned businesses in Washington and beyond,” said the analysis published on Tuesday. “The COVID-19 crisis has hit communities of color particularly hard. In Washington, Black people make up 46% of the population, but have accounted for 74% of COVID-19 deaths.” 

The Defense Department awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts for medical gowns to “unexpected and inexperienced” companies, The New York Times reported on Wednesday. “Two of those companies have been working with a retired National Football League player and, in one case, a former arms dealer who was barred from government contracting and was the inspiration for the film ‘War Dogs,’” said the report. However, “Ellen Lord, the under secretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, said during the hearing that the Defense Logistics Agency’s ‘very stringent criteria were met and adhered to’ in awarding the contracts.”

The Environmental Protection Agency pushed back on the union members' vote of no confidence in Administrator Andrew Wheeler and other agency leaders for bringing employees back into offices too soon, which puts them at risk for contracting the coronavirus. “These are baseless allegations,” EPA Spokesman James Hewitt said in a statement to Government Executive on Tuesday. “Reopening decisions are determined with the help of career EPA scientists and by examining guidance and orders of local and state officials. EPA has taken a number of measures and precautions to ensure a safer work environment that include giving worker flexibility to telework and cleaning work spaces.” 

The Homeland Security Department published a first-of-its-kind threat assessment on Tuesday, which has numerous examples of how the coronavirus has influenced national security. This includes: cybercriminals looking to disrupt hospitals and public health agencies by launching ransomware attacks and phishing attempts, disinformation campaigns, destabilization of the U.S. supply chain, the development of violent extremists due to social isolation, a shift away from nuclear security priorities and more. 

Upcoming: Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Democratic vice presidential nominee, will take part in a debate at 9 p.m.

Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode is about how the payroll tax deferral, due to the pandemic-induced recession, impacts federal employees. 

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.