By Andrii Yalanskyi /

Coronavirus Roundup: Pandemic IG Seeks Greater Hiring Authority; FOIA Requests Delayed During Pandemic 

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

The coronavirus pandemic has created the most “unequal” recession in modern U.S. history, according to a new analysis by The Washington Post. Those most affected by job losses have been Black men and women, Hispanic men, Asian Americans, mothers of school-age kids, Americans between the ages of 25 and 34, and individuals without college degrees. “The recession’s inequality is a reflection of the coronavirus itself, which has caused more deaths in low-income communities and severely affected jobs in restaurants, hotels and entertainment venues,” said the report. “Jobs in these places typically pay, on average, $17 an hour and were overwhelmingly held by women and people of color.” Here are some other recent headlines you might have missed. 

Federal and state public records requests have been delayed or grounded in some cases, due to the pandemic, The Washington Post reported on Thursday. The Freedom of Information Act requires federal agencies to release records within 20 days, unless an exemption is provided. However, “the most recent evaluation found that the average time it took federal agencies to process a FOIA request identified as ‘simple’ was more than 39 days,” said the report. “Requests that agencies deemed ‘complex’ faced longer delays: 14% of those requests took more than 400 days to process.” By the end of fiscal 2020, there were 120,436 requests not processed in the timeframe required. 

The Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery released its quarterly report on Wednesday and recommended that Congress pass a bill introduced by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, that would boost its hiring authority. “SIGPR has faced significant headwinds in attempting to staff up quickly so that the office can turn its collective focus to finding and exposing fraud, waste and abuse under the CARES Act,” said the report. “While the office has worked diligently to meet its statutory mandates with a limited roster, additional hiring authority and flexibility would provide a tremendous boost to the office’s ability to conduct critically needed oversight.” The IG office is working in office space provided by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, Virginia.  

The White House overruled Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield, who wanted to extend the “no-sail order” for cruise ships (which ended on Wednesday) through February 2021. Instead, it will be extended until October 31, which “matches the endpoint of the cruise industry's self-imposed ban,” after cruise ships experienced massive coronavirus outbreaks earlier this year, Axios reported. “The White House denies politics played any role in the decision.”

The CDC hasn’t issued new health information on the coronavirus since September 24 after changing its procedure for disseminating information, ABC News reported on Thursday. “A CDC source familiar with the COVID response called the halt in information flow to the American public a ‘moratorium,’ adding, ‘Scientists are prevented from updating the CDC website with new information, recommendations and policies surrounding COVID,’” said the report. “A separate source confirmed CDC guidance updates are not currently being published, but disagreed with the categorization of a ‘moratorium’ and instead insisted ‘agency leadership is just ensuring the review process is being followed.’”

House and Senate Democrats are looking into why early on in the pandemic the CDC “softened” its recommendations for a Smithfield Foods meatpacking plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which became a coronavirus hotspot They raised questions on whether or not political interference was involved, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday.

The National Archives and Records Administration released its social media strategy for 2021-2025 on Wednesday, which notes, “COVID-19 pandemic has changed the digital landscape.” The goals are to make records digitally available, be accessible to customers, provide information and unusual resources, and give employees leadership and training opportunities. “As the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us, social media can be our only line of immediate communication with our numerous and diverse audiences,” said the report. “Whether they are a records manager at a federal agency, a veteran, a teacher, a parent, a researcher, a family historian, or someone who wants to learn about history from primary sources, we need to be ready to meet our customers where they are on social media.”

The State Department inspector general released its work plan for fiscal years 2021-2022 on Wednesday, which includes various pandemic-related audits. The IG plans to review the department’s return of employees and contractors to workplaces, backlog of passport applications that increased during the pandemic, and Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (which is in charge of planning for pandemics and carrying out global health policy), among other things. 

In fiscal 2020, 21 individuals died in Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s custody, which is more than double from 2019 and the highest number since 2005, CNN reported on Wednesday. “Immigrant rights advocates say the deaths are a sign of deteriorating conditions, serious problems with medical care and ICE's flawed approach to handling the pandemic,” said the report. This happened despite the fact that “the total number of people detained in ICE facilities has decreased significantly during the pandemic.” 

President Trump was the “single largest driver” of misinformation about the pandemic, according to a new study by Cornell University researchers expected to be released on Thursday. Researchers examined 38 million news articles from January 1 to May 26 and identified that the president contributed to about 38% of the “misinformation conversation,” The New York Times reported

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