Coronavirus Roundup: Agencies Update Mask Guidelines; Watchdogs Examine VA and IRS Facilities During COVID
There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.
The nonprofit Partnership for Public Service and Boston Consulting Group released a report on Thursday about what they’ve learned from 15 years of issuing “Best Places to Work” reports. “To make the federal government a world-class employer that can compete for a diverse array of talent, the federal employee experience must evolve. And as the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, this evolution is even more imperative,” said the report. “Up to a quarter of workers in the U.S. may be thinking of leaving their jobs after the pandemic subsides. To stand a chance of competing with the private sector for this talent, federal leaders must build on the lessons of the past year by placing a heightened focus on engaging employees and addressing their workplace needs.” Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed.
Politico has details on what the expected vaccine mandate for federal employees will be like, although as of Wednesday evening the details were still being finalized. “Biden is due to issue a directive Thursday requiring some 2 million federal employees to attest they’ve received the shot or submit to weekly testing, according to four people familiar with the plans,” said the report. “The move would avoid the kind of top-down order Biden has resisted using for months to contain the virus. But it would give federal departments and agencies discretion to force certain employees to show proof of vaccination, as the Department of Veterans Affairs did this week with its front-line health workers.”
After coming in contact with a department official who tested positive for COVID-19, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is working remotely this week, Politico reported on Tuesday. “The secretary is fully vaccinated, has no symptoms, and has tested negative twice,” DHS spokesperson Marsha Espinosa told Politico. “Official DHS contact tracing is underway.” The department did not provide details on how many other department officials were exposed.
Only two people cited by the Transportation Security Administration for violations of its mask mandate have agreed to pay the fines, The Hill reported. “TSA said it has received referrals concerning 2,413 incidents of possible noncompliance and has completed investigations into 1,793 incidents,” said the report. “The agency issued more than 1,690 warning notices and referred 38 matters for civil penalties. Only two individuals did not challenge their fines of $250 each, TSA said in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.”
The Small Business Administration announced on Wednesday it’s launching a streamlined application portal for borrowers of the Paycheck Protection Program to apply for loan forgiveness for loans $150,000 or less. The portal will begin accepting applications on August 4.
SBA also announced on Wednesday that in fiscal 2020, the federal government exceeded its small business contracting goals. “Despite the fact that it’s been an extremely challenging year for small businesses, the SBA is proud to announce that our nation’s entrepreneurs used their trademark ingenuity, grit, and determination to do a record amount of contracts—$145.7 billion—with the federal government,” which is a $13 billion increase from fiscal 2019, said SBA Administrator Isabel Guzman.
The Defense Department issued new mask guidance on Wednesday following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s updated guidelines on Tuesday. All individuals, regardless of their vaccination status, have to wear masks inside at Defense Department facilities and installations in areas with a “high” or “substantial” risk of coronavirus transmission. This applies to service members, civilian employees, contractors and visitors. The Office of Management and Budget gave a similar directive to agencies as well.
The Government Accountability Office issued a report on Wednesday about how the Veterans Affairs Department managed the pandemic during the first year at its Community Living Centers, which are VA-owned and operated nursing homes. “Although VA was active in generating guidance, training, and other support for [the centers], the agency conducted limited oversight of infection prevention and control in [centers] during the first year of the pandemic,” said the report. “It is understandable that VA faced challenges that affected its ability to oversee nursing homes during the pandemic, as information about COVID-19 and its mitigation rapidly evolved, and the agency had to respond in real time.” Reviewing what happened from March 2020 to February 2021 would help the agency better prepare to mitigate future outbreaks, said GAO.
Based on unannounced health and safety inspections at nine Internal Revenue Service facilities, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration found that “generally” there were measures implemented to protect staff. Yet, “although TIGTA observed most individuals maintaining social distance, TIGTA identified some who were not maintaining at least six feet of separation as required by IRS guidance,” said a new report. “For example, TIGTA observed individuals walking together in hallways, sitting together and eating in the cafeteria or break rooms, and working together in cubicles.”
The Smithsonian Institution announced on Thursday that starting on Friday, all visitors ages two and older must wear a mask while inside museums and indoor spaces, regardless if they are vaccinated or not. “Fully vaccinated visitors will not be required to wear a mask in outdoor areas at the National Zoo and the Smithsonian’s outdoor gardens but must wear a mask to visit indoor areas, including restrooms,” said the press release.
- White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre will give a briefing at 1 p.m.
- President Biden will give remarks at 4 p.m. about the next steps in getting Americans vaccinated.
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