John Minchillo / AP

Coronavirus Roundup: Concerns About the Vaccine Mandate and Holiday Season Travel; CDC Endorses Booster Shots for Millions

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

The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee issued a report this week urging increased transparency into awards from the coronavirus relief laws. The oversight group said it reviewed “51,000 awards worth $347 billion that supported the pandemic response (as of June 15, 2021),” and “found more than 15,400 awards worth $33 billion with meaningless descriptions that make it difficult to know how the money was used,” which is “not a new problem.” 

Agencies had varied approaches to interpreting and applying guidance from the Office of Management and Budget for award descriptions and “as a result, data on USAspending.gov are not always comparable, and in many cases, users will have difficulty understanding the purpose of an award based on the award description field,” said the report. The Office of Management and Budget concurred with the committee's recommendation on how to address this issue. Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed.

On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed its advisory committee’s recommendation for booster shots for tens of millions of individuals who received either the Johnson & Johnson or Moderna vaccine. “Eligible individuals may choose which vaccine they receive as a booster,” the CDC said in a press release. “CDC’s recommendations now allow for this type of mix and match dosing for booster shots.”

Rep. Carlos Gimenez, R-Fla., ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee’s Transportation and Maritime Security panel, raised concerns earlier this week about the impact of the vaccine mandate––particularly for Transportation Security Administration officers––on holiday travel. “With press reports indicating that 40% of the TSA workforce is not yet confirmed to be vaccinated, I am concerned that the heavy-handed vaccine mandate the Biden administration has insisted upon could result in the discipline, attrition, or even termination of tens of thousands of TSA employees,” he wrote in a letter to the TSA administrator. Gimenez said he is concerned that the deadline for the mandate, November 22, comes just before Thanksgiving and the start of the holiday season and a “potential shortage of dedicated TSA employees” could lead to travel delays. 

A TSA spokesperson told Government Executive in response that “employee vaccination remains a priority within TSA,” and the agency has an online tool for employees to report their vaccination status. “My understanding is that the current percentage reflects employees TSA doesn’t yet have vaccination information on and is not an accurate reflection of its vaccination rate,” the spokesperson added. “TSA personnel are in jobs where they are not readily in front of computers. Many Transportation Security Officers do not have government-issued equipment to submit required information and responses to government-issued surveys. TSA responses to surveys are often delayed in comparison to other [Homeland Security Department] components.” 

Related, a trade group for air cargo giants, such as UPS and FedEx, asked the Office of Management and Budget to delay the implementation of the contractor vaccine mandate due to concerns about further supply chain disruptions during the holiday season, Politico reported on Thursday. 

The Defense Department released new guidance on October 18 about the vaccine mandate for civilian employees, contractors and visitors. For civilian employees, “progressive enforcement actions” for those who do not get vaccinated and don’t receive an exemption are: five days of counseling and education, suspension without pay for up to 14 days (only members of the Senior Executive Service can be suspended for more than 14 days) and then removal from federal service. 

The top members from both parties on the House Oversight and Reform Committee asked the National Archives and Records Administration IG to review NARA’s efforts to address the backlog of cases for veteran records requests at the National Personnel Records Center that has drastically expanded due to the pandemic. “Unfortunately, NARA’s most recent update to Congress on October 4, 2021, indicated that more than 550,000 requests are currently in the backlog and that progress to reduce the backlog was interrupted by the spread of the more contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus,” they wrote in a letter on Wednesday. “NARA must keep its workforce safe, but the agency also needs to take action to ensure our veterans do not wait years for records they require to access critical services.” 

The Justice Department inspector general is conducting a survey of inmates in federal prisons about the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ pandemic response, the IG office announced on Thursday. 

The Defense Department IG released on Wednesday its fiscal 2021 quarter four update for coronavirus oversight. This outlines ongoing projects and reports completed during the fourth quarter. 

Upcoming: White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki 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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