Coronavirus Roundup: Treasury Creates New Office to Oversee Recovery; Despite Challenges, Transition Was Well Executed, Says Nonprofit
There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory committee met on Wednesday to review the six cases of rare blood clots possibly linked to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. After several hours of discussion, the committee declined to take a vote on a recommendation, saying members need more time. Therefore, the pause on administering the vaccine will continue. “The panel did not set a date for when they will meet again, but it could be in the next week to 10 days,” The Hill reported. “There is also a regularly scheduled meeting on May 5.” Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed.
The Government Accountability Office issued a report on Wednesday about the federal government’s efforts to increase availability of vaccines. After early challenges, it attributed the success, in part, to the more than $3 billion in awards from the 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act and American Resource Plan, as well as the “National Strategy for COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness” that President Biden issued on January 21. “With the release of the National Strategy, the federal government identified several specific initiatives for vaccine implementation, as part of the larger COVID-19 response,” such as starting partnerships with retail pharmacies and federally qualified health centers.
The Treasury Department announced on Wednesday it created a new office to lead the department’s implementation of economic relief and recovery programs. Jacob Leibenluft, a former Obama administration official, will be the inaugural chief recovery officer. The office will work closely with Gene Sperling, a White House senior adviser, overseeing the implementation of the American Rescue Plan. “Prior to the establishment of the Office of Recovery Programs, this work was led from disparate offices across the Treasury Department,” said a press release. “The Office of Recovery Programs will build on that work and establish a sustainable model for efficiently and effectively implementing these programs that will make it easier for communities, businesses, and households to access relief.”
The Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service said on Wednesday they began processing a fifth batch of about 2 million relief payments on April 9 that were expected to arrive on Wednesday, April 14. “More than 320,000 payments, with a total value of $450 million, went to Veterans Affairs beneficiaries who receive Compensation and Pension benefit payments, but who don’t normally file a tax return and didn’t use the non-filers tool last year,” they noted.
Public Citizen and the Center for Responsive Politics have a new report out about the influence of lobbyists for pandemic-related contracts in 2020. The federal government awarded more than $36 billion in contracts to more than 6,3000 companies in 2020 to fight the pandemic. About 6% of the companies reported they lobbied the government in 2020 but they received roughly half of the money distributed. Also, only 2% of the contractors reported they lobbied the White House or administration that gave them the contract for the pandemic.
“These 2% of contractors received 37 percent – $13.4 billion – of all the contract money awarded,” said the report. “For many of these companies, lobbying the White House was either completely new for them or something they had not done recently.” Together they contributed $313 million to then-President Trump, members of Congress and party committees from the 2016 to 2020 election cycles. This doesn’t “necessarily indicate that companies inappropriately received contracts;” however, it raises questions about the government’s procurement decisions, said the report.
The Biden administration will not continue the Agriculture Department’s pandemic food assistance program (started by the Trump administration last May) when it expires next month, Reuters reported on Wednesday. The program has been met with high costs, delivery issues and some rural areas feeling left out, said the report.
The General Services Administration announced on Wednesday it is waiving certain requirements for Multiple Award Schedule solicitations to help the government’s response to the pandemic. The agency created a frequently asked questions and answers document for industry.
The nonprofit Partnership for Public Service’s Center for Presidential Transition said in a new report that despite the vast challenges, the Biden team executed “one of the most extensively planned transitions, as well as the first-ever virtual transition.” The nonprofit also complimented GSA for taking public health precautions seriously and helping the Biden team facilitate its transition in a remote environment. As a result of the pandemic, there was a surge of mail-in votes, which led to the Trump campaign challenging the legitimacy of the election results in many states and led to a delay in GSA ascertaining Biden as the apparent winner and thus letting the formal transition begin. However, the Biden team was able to catch up after getting the green light.
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