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Coronavirus Roundup: Watchdog Reviews Reentry Planning and Hiring During COVID-19

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

The return-to-work process for federal employees saw limited oversight and coordination in 2020, but improved in 2021 due to the guidance issued by the Biden administration’s Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, the Government Accountability Office said in a report published on Monday. 

The report also noted agencies were required to submit revised reentry and post-reentry plans to the Office of Management and Budget over the summer for review. This was “outside the scope of our review,” GAO said, but this “indicates that the task force and its members plan to continue oversight and coordination with agencies for workplace safety and continued reentry planning efforts, [which] should help to ensure consistency with guidance across agencies for future reentry efforts.” Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed. 

In another report released on Monday, GAO said that the Office of Personnel Management should collect and share the lessons learned from use of hiring flexibilities during the pandemic in order to prepare for future emergencies. OPM agreed. “Use of the COVID-19 related hiring authorities varied among agencies, and some COVID-19 hiring authorities were used more extensively than others to meet agencies’ hiring needs during the pandemic,” the report said. “In addition, some agencies did not initially understand how to use the various COVID-19 hiring authorities.” 

The latest guidance from the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force covers vaccine documentation for federal employees and vaccine safety protocols for both federal employees contractors. 

The Health and Human Services Department announced on Monday actions it is taking to make over-the-counter COVID-19 tests more available. “The National Institutes of Health is investing $70 million from the American Rescue Plan to help bring more high-quality, at-home tests onto the market in the U.S. in coordination with the Food and Drug Administration,” said a press release. “Separately, the FDA is further streamlining the regulatory pathway for manufacturers developing over-the-counter at-home tests...Additionally, FDA announced it has authorized another over-the-counter rapid antigen test,” which marks “the tenth over-the-counter test FDA has authorized.”

The Treasury Department announced on Monday it appointed its first counselor for racial equity and outlined its coordinated approach to advancing equity in the department. “We understood that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated systemic inequities in communities of color and low-income communities that existed long before this crisis,” wrote Wally Adeyemo, deputy secretary of the Treasury. The new counselor for racial equity, Janis Bowdler, will create an advisory committee to “provide the department’s leadership with advice and expert counsel focused on advancing equity for communities that have historically been left behind.” Adeyemo also noted that, as of Monday, more than 40% of the political appointees at the department identity as people of color. 

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., sent letters to the Airlines for America president and CEO as well as National Air Carrier Association president on Monday urging their member airlines to fight the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate. “I am working with my colleagues to use the Congressional Review Act to oppose and dismantle the Biden administration’s harmful vaccine mandates targeting large employers and federal contractors,” Scott wrote. “I have also filed legislation to prohibit federal agencies from requiring proof of vaccination for individuals seeking to engage in interstate commerce or to access federal programs or benefits.” 

The FDA’s advisory committee on vaccines is meeting on Tuesday to discuss allowing kids ages 5 to 11 to receive Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine. Last week, the White House shared its operational plan to distribute and promote vaccines for kids if and when the approval comes.

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