Coronavirus Roundup: Vaccine Rule Submitted to White House; 60% of TSA's Workforce Is Vaccinated
Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.
Daniel Glad, director of the Procurement Collusion Strike Force at the Justice Department, spoke at an American Bar Association event on Wednesday about the importance of his work to combat antitrust and procurement crimes, especially during the pandemic. In addition to the billions of dollars the federal government spends on contracts each year, “when you factor in the additional CARES Act funding to address the COVID-19 public health crisis and the support for economic recovery, the numbers spike,” Glad said. “Grant funding, in particular, has increased exponentially due to the COVID-19 pandemic...Losing even a fraction of this money to anti-competitive or collusive criminal conduct is incredibly costly.”
He also noted that state and local governments’ already constrained resources have been “besieged by the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, which in many areas has been followed by a summer of crises and weather disasters—ranging from wildfires in California and the West, to Hurricane Ida wreaking havoc on a path that started in Louisiana and continued through the Ohio River Valley to the Northeast.” Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed.
The union that represents Federal Bureau of Prisons employees filed an unfair labor practice charge with the Federal Labor Relations Authority last month regarding the vaccine mandate and requested a temporary restraining order against BOP to prevent implementation of the executive order until the parties negotiate it. But the FLRA told the union on Tuesday that its request for a temporary restraining order won’t be given, Richard Heldreth, mid-Atlantic region vice president for the Council of Prison Locals, told Government Executive. The unfair labor practice charge was not based on “undermining the executive order...but the council is against forced mandates,” Heldreth said. The union is just “trying to force the agency to bargain.”
The General Services Administration held an industry webinar on Wednesday about implementation of the vaccine mandate for federal contractors. Slides for the event can be viewed here.
Staffers at the Food and Drug Administration did not take a “firm stance” on Moderna’s application for booster shots, The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday. “FDA staff, after reviewing a drugmaker’s application, often weigh whether it should be given a go-ahead. But they also didn’t take a position on Pfizer Inc.’s booster request,” said the report. “The FDA’s analysis indicates that the existing Moderna data may not be enough for the panel to recommend authorizing Moderna’s booster as widely as Pfizer’s, though experts cautioned that the final outcome would be hard to predict.”
Forty percent of the Transportation Security Administration workforce is still not vaccinated, CNN reported on Wednesday. TSA Administrator David Pekoske told CNN he is “very hopeful” that the agency can meet the November 22 deadline and will not have staffing shortages. “We are building contingency plans, for if we do have some staffing shortages as a result of this, but I hope to avoid that,” he said.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration submitted its proposed rule on vaccines to the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs for review on Tuesday. “We don't, as a longstanding practice, comment on the timeline of how long that takes because we want to allow that process to happen,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki during the briefing on Wednesday. “But, you know, it should be an indication that it's there and now it is being reviewed. And once it is finalized and through the OIRA process and review, it will be posted publicly in the Federal Register, and you will all have access to every detail of it.”
Psaki was asked during the briefing on Tuesday about the opposition by some labor unions to the vaccine mandates and agitation that they were not part of the discussion beforehand. President Biden “always welcomes the input, the views of labor unions, and certainly has heard their concerns in this regard,” she replied. “But I think it's also important to remember we're in the middle of a pandemic.
Psaki was also asked about morale and stability issues at the FDA due to the fact that there is not a nominee for commissioner. “We are very focused on ensuring there's an FDA commissioner in place, nominating exactly the right person. I don't have an update on the timing,” Psaki said. “FDA and any of our agencies are full of career employees, talented officials, many of them who’ve worked at these agencies for years, if not decades, who have moved forward on the approval of vaccines, the approval of boosters, the approval of, you know, a range of treatments that can help save lives in the public...And we have an acting FDA commissioner doing that as well.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is launching a pilot program at San Francisco International Airport to identify new COVID variants, KPIX 5, a local CBS affiliate reported earlier this week. “For now, the program is limited to passengers on certain international flights coming into San Francisco, as well as JFK and Newark International,” said the report. “Early detection will allow medical researchers to quickly begin testing how the new strains spread and react to the vaccines currently in use.”
The Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency released its annual report for fiscal 2020 on Wednesday, which includes accomplishments related to the pandemic as well as acknowledges the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee and Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery that were established in March 2020 by the CARES Act. “Information technology security management and security by a wide margin emerged as this year’s top challenge,” said the report. “It was followed by human capital management; financial management; and then a new entrant, homeland security/disaster preparedness/COVID-19. Rounding out the list was procurement management; grant management; and performance management and accountability.”
Republicans on the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis blasted the Democrats for pursuing more spending instead of focusing on fraud in COVID-19 relief programs. “We urge you to join our effort to provide transparency to the American taxpayers by holding another hearing on the specific programs that have proven vulnerable to fraud and cybercrime” and “invite appropriate federal agency officials,” they wrote in a letter on Wednesday to Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., select subcommittee chairman.
Upcoming: White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will give a briefing at 3 p.m.
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