Coronavirus Roundup: State Department Embraces Work Flexibilities; CDC Recommends Fourth COVID-19 Shot for Some
There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.
The Government Accountability Office released on Wednesday its eighth comprehensive report on the federal government’s response to the pandemic. It made 16 new recommendations, one of which involves the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
“According to inspectors from area offices, they faced challenges related to resources and to communication and guidance, such as a lack of timely guidance from OSHA headquarters,” said the report. “GAO recommends that OSHA assess—as soon as feasible and, as appropriate, periodically thereafter—various challenges related to resources and to communication and guidance that the agency has faced in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic and take related actions as warranted.” The Labor Department partially agreed. Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed.
Twenty-one state attorneys general sent a letter to President Biden on Wednesday contesting the vaccine mandate for federal contractors, WLOX reported. “We strongly urge you to instruct agencies to cease implementing the mandate or, at a minimum, to provide clarity to agencies and federal contractors across the country and delay the mandate’s compliance date,” they wrote.
Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., launched a web portal earlier this week to help federal employees fight the vaccine mandate. “I will do everything to help you if you are concerned about being forced into a vaccination you do not want and it affecting your employment, if you are an employer concerned about how this may impact your business, or if you are a member of the military or a civilian employee of a government agency slated for forced vaccination. I believe that if any employer is forcing you to be vaccinated, they should accept liability for any possible side effects. Upon your request, I can reach out to the agency on your behalf to request that they acknowledge liability.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke about post-pandemic work during an address about modernization of American diplomacy on Wednesday. “We’ll be institutionalizing some of the changes and flexibilities we’ve adopted during COVID, like telework, and the Global Talent Management Bureau is creating what we’re calling a retention unit to better understand and address the issues that may be causing people to consider leaving,” he said at the Foreign Service Institute in Arlington, Virginia. “We’ve got to do better on keeping, empowering [and] supporting the incredible talent and expertise that we already have in this community. If we don’t, so much else that we’re doing on recruitment and hiring will fall short.”
Blinken also said the department is doing a review on how it can better lead on global health security because “it’s critical that we not only help end the COVID-19 pandemic, but also build back better global health security to prevent, to detect, and mitigate future pandemics.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in updated guidance earlier this week that some immunocompromised individuals who have received either Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna's vaccine can get a fourth shot. This must be at least six months after their third dose.
During the COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday, Jeff Zients, White House coronavirus response coordinator, said the vaccine mandate for federal employees and contractors “will not cause disruption” to the economy or supply chain. Once the deadlines for vaccinations come, “we expect federal agencies and contractors will follow their standard [human resources] processes and that, for any of the probably relatively small percent of employees that are not in compliance, they'll go through education, counseling, accommodations and then enforcement,” Zients said. “So, these processes play out across weeks, not days. And so, to be clear, we're creating flexibility within the system...The purpose, I think, most importantly, is to get people vaccinated and protected, not to punish them. So, we do not expect any disruptions.”
As for the forthcoming OSHA rule on vaccinations or frequent testing for organizations with more than 100 employees, he didn’t have a timing update other than it will be “finalized soon.”
Attorney General Merrick Garland testified before a Senate Committee on Wednesday that the home confinement of some federal prisoners during the pandemic has been successful. The Justice Department is reviewing the Office of Legal Counsel memo––issued at the tail end of the Trump administration––that says inmates must return to prison when the pandemic ends, as well as the other relevant authorities from Congress and President Biden and “the extent of his clemency authority in that respect.” Garland could not give a timing update and said any changes might need to go through the rulemaking process.
Dustin Brown, deputy assistant director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, spoke at an IBM Business of Government webinar on Thursday about how the federal government can come out stronger after COVID-19. “I think the pandemic has really, and other crises too for that matter, have really raised the question about how we optimize horizontally across [the] government,” he said. “One example of that is the U.S. government has stood up the president’s management council, which includes the deputy secretaries or chief operating officers at all the largest 24 agencies. They set up a working group on reentry and the future of work.” Brown also noted the pulse surveys that the Biden administration started sending out last week on federal employees’ feelings on engagement, inclusion and the return to office process.
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