Coronavirus Roundup: HHS Watchdog Nominee Testifies; Union Calls For Vaccine Mandate at All Points of Entry
There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.
On Wednesday morning, Christi Grimm, who is performing the duties of Health and Human Services Department inspector general, testified before a Senate committee regarding her nomination to be the permanent watchdog. During a briefing in April 2020, then-President Trump attacked the findings of a report her office issued about the vast shortages of medical equipment and supplies early in the coronavirus pandemic at hospitals nationwide as well as questioned Grimm's credibility. He then announced on May 1, 2020, his intent to nominate Jason Weida, Boston-based assistant U.S. attorney, to be HHS watchdog, but President Biden nominated Grimm for the job.
“Inspectors general perform an essential public service,” said Grimm, who has been with the office since 1999. “I’ve been performing the duties of IG since January 2020, directing oversight of HHS’s COVID-19 pandemic response while transitioning a workforce of over 1,600 professionals to a mostly virtual environment. We have not allowed unprecedented challenges to disrupt our mission.”
Nominees for a Senate-confirmed position cannot be serving simultaneously in the acting role. Grimm is “principal deputy inspector general performing the duties of the inspector general,” an HHS IG office spokesperson told Government Executive. “She is not in an acting role at our organization.” Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed.
The National Treasury Employees Union said it supports the Biden administration’s recent decision to require foreign nationals flying to the United States to be vaccinated, and now it’s calling for vaccination requirements for all ports of entry. “[Customs and Border Protection] employees have been on the job throughout the pandemic, processing legitimate trade and travel, interdicting illegal drugs and products, and inspecting cargo for invasive pests or disease,” said NTEU National President Tony Reardon in a statement on Monday. “The least we can do is to make sure everyone they come into contact with is inoculated against COVID-19 and has recently tested negative.”
Johnson & Johnson released new data on Tuesday that show a booster dose of its vaccine increases protection against the coronavirus. “The company has provided available data to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and plans to submit the data to other regulators, the World Health Organization and National Immunization Technical Advisory Groups worldwide to inform decision-making on local vaccine administration strategies, as needed,” said a press release.
Health and Human Services Department Secretary Xavier Becerra has taken a “back seat” on the coronavirus response, Politico reported on Tuesday. “Administration officials say Becerra’s limited role has left the government without a strong intermediary between a fast-moving White House and HHS’ methodical scientific agencies — contributing to breakdowns in coordination that have hampered the response and fueled accusations of political interference,” said the report. However, “Becerra told Politico he believes he’s ‘absolutely’ been empowered as part of the COVID-19 response, and he emphasized his department’s involvement in the booster debate and other aspects of the effort.”
The Project on Government Oversight released a new report on Tuesday that looks at contracting misconduct during the pandemic. “The federal government awarded a total of $666 billion in contracts in fiscal year 2020, a 13% increase compared to the previous year,” the report said. “Over $389 billion of that total, or 59%, went to the top 100 contractors. The federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic propelled several new names — and one old one — into the top 100,” some of which “have a history of misconduct allegations.”
Inside the continuing resolution that the House passed on Tuesday night is $60 million for White House “salaries and expenses,” which is “a response to [the Office of Management and Budget’s] request earlier this month for funding partly to ‘maintain core operations and support additional activities including COVID-19 management and testing,’ [according to] a Democratic appropriations spokesperson,” Politico reported on Wednesday. “OMB warned at the time that without the provision it wouldn’t have enough money to ‘maintain additional operating requirements for responding to the COVID-19 pandemic,’ among other in-house operations.”
The September 2021 edition of the Merit Systems Protection Board's newsletter has an article about the considerations for the future of telework. “Managers and supervisors should recognize that the optimal approach to telework will continue to evolve over time and may evolve differently within different work units. They should be flexible and open to trying new approaches, working through any issues that may arise,” said the article. “Employees also have a role to play in agency telework programs. They should assess their own work habits and preferred routines to determine what level of telework, if any, is right for them. Not all employees or jobs are suitable for telework.”
Upcoming: White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will give a briefing at 1 p.m.
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