U.S. Federal Election Commission Commissioner Ellen Weintraub testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 22, 2019.

U.S. Federal Election Commission Commissioner Ellen Weintraub testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 22, 2019. Carolyn Kaster/AP

Coronavirus Roundup: FEC Commissioner Calls on GSA to Ascertain Election, Citing Pandemic; Fauci Says Vaccine Could Be Widely Available by April 

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

The Veterans Affairs Department live streamed a wreath laying ceremony Wednesday at Arlington National Cemetery, heeding public health guidance. “On November 11th, we pause to reflect on American veterans, men and women who have served and sacrificed while wearing the uniforms of the nation—ordinary Americans performing extraordinary service,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a video message. Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed.

Democratic Federal Election Commission Commissioner Ellen Weintraub sent a letter to General Services Administration Administrator Emily Murphy on Tuesday asking her to ascertain President-elect Joe Biden as the winner of the election, so the transition can formally begin. “The new administration will take office at a time of grave public health and economic crisis for our country,” Weintraub wrote. “As of yesterday, the pandemic has killed more than 238,000 Americans and is accelerating its rampage across America. Your delay is damaging the ability of President-elect Biden to fully address the pandemic head-on when he takes office.” 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said on Tuesday she sent a second letter to Brian Miller, special inspector general for pandemic recovery, after he responded to her request about reviewing the role of lobbyists and possible corruption in the disbursement of CARES Act funds in an “irresponsible, unprofessional and partisan” manner. “You claimed to ‘eschew all politics,’” Warren wrote. However, she said Miller responded to her request “by appearing to act as a defense attorney for Trump administration connected lobbyists who have helped their clients obtain tens of billions of dollars in CARES Act funds; attacking a series of Democratic lobbyists by name with no evidence…[of] wrongdoing; and completely ignoring questions about whether Department of Treasury officials had established and followed proper decision-making protocols for this hundreds of billions in taxpayer funds.” 

Warren and Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., wrote to the Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday about its quality and safety inspections for foreign pharmaceutical facilities and drug products coming into the United States, which were largely suspended in March at the pandemic’s onset. “FDA claims that it is increasing its use of other tools such as ‘physical examinations of products arriving at U.S. borders or product sampling and testing before release into commerce.’ However, FDA’s ability to keep pace with the huge number of imports arriving in the United States has long been questioned, and the effectiveness of such tools in lieu of in-person inspections is unclear,” the senators wrote. “The continued postponement...could pose a danger to the public health of the United States. The failure of foreign manufacturing facilities to comply with regulatory requirements has allowed low-quality and unsafe products to enter circulation in the United States, resulting in a number of large-scale drug quality issues.” 

In regard to the next coronavirus relief bill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters on Tuesday, “I don't think the current situation demands a multi-trillion dollar package, so I think it should be highly targeted.” Hospitalizations for coronavirus hit an all-time high on Tuesday (61,964) and new daily cases surpassed 139,000 for the first time, The New York Times reported

Biden’s coronavirus advisory board and transition team at-large has begun its outreach to Democrats in Congress about navigating pandemic-related and other legislation when the president-elect is sworn in, Politico reported on Tuesday. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN on Tuesday he believes the average American will be able to get the coronavirus vaccine by April of next year. He also reiterated that the news that Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine is more than 90% effective should not preclude everyone from taking other public health measures.

The Health and Human Services Department announced on Tuesday officials are starting to allocate Eli Lilly and Company’s antibody therapies after receiving emergency use authorization earlier this week. “We are committed to the equitable and efficient distribution of resources like bamlanivimab to help prevent hospitalization from COVID-19 as much as possible,” said HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Dr. Robert Kadlec. “To that end, we are coordinating with Lilly, its distributor, and state and territorial health departments to get therapeutics into the hands of health care providers quickly, with a focus on areas of the country currently hardest hit by the pandemic.”

The Veterans Health Administration was able to cut its backlog of Freedom of Information Act requests in half this past year due to the telework infrastructure it had and used during the pandemic, Federal News Network reported

Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode is about how federal agencies can work together better to share information even in a telework environment.

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.