The Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin, Calif.

The Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin, Calif. Ben Margot / AP file photo

Coronavirus Roundup: Pandemic IG Asks for Expansion of Jurisdiction Again; GAO Looks at Contracting and Federal Prisons During COVID

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

Celeste Drake, director of the Made in America Office within the Office of Management and Budget, said in a blog post published on Thursday that the future of the U.S. economy will depend on “reinventing American manufacturing and innovation.” The pandemic led to the loss of 578,000 manufacturing jobs in 2020, “but it also shined a bright light on deep and decades-old cracks in our supply chains that undermine our economy, our health, and our national security,” she said. “President Biden has committed to addressing these challenges head-on and making the promise of ‘Made in America’ real.” She recapped the administration’s efforts to increase domestic manufacturing and procurement, including the proposed rule announced earlier this week. Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed. 

The Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery released its latest quarterly report on Friday and once again, the office is calling on Congress to expand its jurisdiction, after a Justice Department legal opinion limited it. Nevertheless, the watchdog office is working on what it can. “We are now staffed by 46 full-time public servants working on two major audits of CARES Act programs and some 20 investigations, 16 of which SIGPR developed internally from our proactive efforts,” said the report. “We expanded our audit and investigative programs through the use of state-of-the-art data analytics, which includes a functional and interactive informational dataset of nearly 70 million rows of data covering billions of dollars of CARES Act funding.” The office would like to be included in the annual federal budget in order to sustain its efforts.

The Government Accountability Office issued a report on Thursday about the $61.4 billion federal agencies had obligated for the pandemic as of May 31, 2021, and opportunities for improvement. “Contracting during an emergency can pose a unique set of challenges as officials face a significant amount of pressure to provide goods and services as quickly as possible under difficult market conditions,” said the report, which gave a total of 10 recommendations to the Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Defense and Homeland Security departments; Federal Emergency Management Agency; and Office of Federal Procurement Policy. 

For example, “updating OFPP’s governmentwide guidance to reflect the resources agencies have relied on to mitigate obstacles of assessing prospective vendors in recent emergencies and establishing a process for regular updates to the guidance, will ensure that all federal agencies can benefit from these practices during future emergency response efforts,” said GAO. 

In another extensive report published on Thursday, GAO outlined the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ coronavirus response and listed areas for improvement in regard to communication of COVID guidance to staff as well as capturing and sharing of best practices in order to prepare for future public health emergencies. “With about 46,000 positive inmate cases and 237 inmate deaths related to COVID-19 as of May 2021, and nearly 7,000 staff cases and four staff deaths related to COVID-19 as of May 2021, COVID-19 has highlighted key opportunities for BOP to better protect staff and inmates in response to the current pandemic and any future public health emergencies,” said GAO. 

GAO recommended the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Federal Procurement Policy share lessons learned from use of the contractor leave provision established in the CARES Act. “For a number of reasons, agencies’ use and implementation of section 3610 authority, and contractors’ experiences, varied,” said a new report. “Once the COVID-19 pandemic is over, there will be an opportunity for the federal government—with the coordination of OMB’s OFPP—to collect and share lessons learned from agencies’ implementation of section 3610. Doing so could enhance how agencies implement paid leave reimbursement provisions should they be enacted in response to future emergencies”

Dr. Peter Marks, director of the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, told USA Today on Thursday that FDA hopes “to be long since done" with giving full approval to COVID vaccines by January 2022. With the rise of the Delta variant, pressure has mounted on the FDA to give Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccines full approval. 

Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., ranking member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said in a statement on Thursday that the Biden administration’s announcement on vaccinations for the federal workforce is a “another pandemic power grab,” which could put “our nation further on the pathway to vaccine passports.” While acknowledging he encourages all Americans to get vaccinated, he said he is “deeply concerned the Biden administration’s authoritarian mandates are setting up different sets of rights for Americans based on their personal medical decisions.”

Internal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention documents show “the war has changed” as the Delta variant spreads just as easily as chicken pox does, The Washington Post reported on Thursday. “The document strikes an urgent note, revealing the agency knows it must revamp its public messaging to emphasize vaccination as the best defense against a variant so contagious that it acts almost like a different novel virus, leaping from target to target more swiftly than Ebola or the common cold,” said the report. “It cites a combination of recently obtained, still-unpublished data from outbreak investigations and outside studies showing that vaccinated individuals infected with delta may be able to transmit the virus as easily as those who are unvaccinated.”

The Food and Drug Administration extended the shelf life for Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine from four and a half months to six months, The Hill reported on Thursday. 

FDA allowed the embattled vaccine plant in Baltimore to resume production of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after it was closed for over three months. “The American people should have high expectations of the partners its government chooses to help prepare them for disaster, and we have even higher expectations of ourselves,” said Emergent CEO Robert Kramer, in a press release on Thursday. “We have fallen short of those lofty ambitions over the past few months, but resumption of manufacturing is a key milestone, and we are grateful for the opportunity to help bring this global pandemic to an end. We’d like to thank our government partners as well as Johnson & Johnson for their support.”

Upcoming: White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre will give a briefing at 1:30 p.m. 

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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