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Coronavirus Roundup: IRS Delays Tax Season Deadline; Lawmaker Seeks Information on Benefits Delay for Federal Retirees

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 announced on Thursday that it has partnered with the American Red Cross to increase recruitment of volunteers for its program to provide veterans experiencing loneliness during the pandemic with virtual companionship. “We regard VA’s Compassionate Contact Corps as a best practice and signature program,” said American Red Cross Senior Vice President Koby Langley. “It directly aligns with our organization’s mission and the expertise of its cadres across a vast nationwide network of volunteers to prevent and alleviate human suffering whenever possible.” Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed.

The Homeland Security Department said in a letter to the contracting community on Wednesday that its current vaccine plans don’t include contractors. However, “DHS supports employer efforts to obtain vaccinations for contractor employees as quickly as possible,” wrote DHS Chief Procurement Officer Soraya Correa. “We are jointly invested in protecting all members of the department’s contractor community so our contractors and partners can continue to assist in safeguarding the homeland.” 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said on Wednesday that a federal pilot community vaccination center opened in Cleveland, which can administer up to 6,000 shots per day. Centers in Atlanta and Detroit are expected to open later this month.

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations, asked the National Finance Center on Wednesday for a briefing on the delay in federal retirees receiving their benefits due to the pandemic. “At a briefing with our staff on February 17, 2021, [the Office of Personnel Management] reported that more than 4,000 requests for service records were delayed at NFC,” the congressman wrote. “According to OPM, 2.7 million annuitants currently receive retirement benefits, and about 100,000 new applicants are added every year. COVID-19 has caused delays in retirement application processing. NFC still largely employs a paper-based system, and the information technology NFC uses to process retirement applications is outdated and cumbersome.” 

Using funds from the American Rescue Plan, the Health and Human Services Department released a $10 billion plan on Wednesday to expand coronavirus testing in schools, so they can reopen safely. The department also directed $2.25 billion to increase testing for underserved populations. 

Due to the expansion of remote work during the pandemic, agencies have the ability to recruit candidates for federal finance jobs from “relatively untapped pools,” according to an analysis by Gartner Inc., a research and advisory company. “With remote working becoming more commonplace it’s time for some government finance leaders to ask themselves whether they are looking in the right places for hard-to-find skills,” said Mallory Barg Bulman, director in Gartner’s finance practice. “There are several cities with a high supply of finance candidates but which aren’t in the top 10 for relevant openings.”

President Biden’s executive order from January 21 set a March 15 deadline for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to decide whether or not emergency temporary standards for the coronavirus are needed. Although the agency has taken several actions since then to bolster its coronavirus response, it has not specifically said anything about the standards. “On January 21, the President issued an executive order on ‘Protecting Worker Health and Safety; directing the Department of Labor to consider whether any emergency temporary standards on Covid-19 were necessary,” a Labor Department spokesperson told Government Executive on Wednesday, when asked for comment on the situation. “The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been working diligently, as appropriate, to consider what standards may be necessary, and is taking the time to get this right.”

The Internal Revenue Service announced on Wednesday that the tax-filing season deadline has been delayed from April 15 to May 17. “The IRS wants to continue to do everything possible to help taxpayers navigate the unusual circumstances related to the pandemic, while also working on important tax administration responsibilities,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig in a statement. “Even with the new deadline, we urge taxpayers to consider filing as soon as possible, especially those who are owed refunds. Filing electronically with direct deposit is the quickest way to get refunds, and it can help some taxpayers more quickly receive any remaining stimulus payments they may be entitled to.”

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released an unclassified version of a report on domestic violence extremism threats in 2021. One of the takeaways is that “newer sociopolitical developments,” such as claims about fraud in the recent elections, the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, “conditions related to the COVID-19 pandemic,” and conspiracy theories encouraging violence will “almost certainly spur” domestic violence extremism attempts this year.

The Senate confirmed Xavier Becerra to be HHS Secretary on Thursday afternoon. The vote was 50-49.

Upcoming: President Biden will give remarks on the vaccination process at 3:15p.m. 

Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode is about the relief provisions for federal employees in the recently passed $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus plan. 

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.

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