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Coronavirus Roundup: Court Wins Lottery to Hear OSHA Rule Case; Agencies’ Top Management Challenges Involve 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 nonprofit Partnership for Public Service released a new report on Tuesday with recommendations to improve the federal government’s customer service as the pandemic has made the need “more acute.” The Partnership said, “with momentum prompted by the new administration and the changes generated by the pandemic, federal leaders should also take a hard look at what’s needed to enable lasting change.”

These recommendations are: including underrepresented and marginalized voices in agencies’ customer research; better integrating services; reducing barriers to customer service; and improving internal operations, such as by reviewing talent, technology, strategy, and organizational processes and structures, said the report. Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed. 

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals won the lottery to hear the legal challenges to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s private businesses vaccine rule. Following the Biden administration’s issuance of the rule, “within 10 days, 34 lawsuits were filed, covering all 12 regional circuit courts and giving each of those courts one entry into the lottery,” NPR reported. “The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Cincinnati, Ohio, is known to lean conservative, with most of its judges appointed by Republican presidents.” Now the 6th Circuit will have to decide whether or not to lift the temporary stay instituted by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, based in New Orleans.

Rep. Fred Keller, R-Pa., introduced a Congressional Review Act resolution on Wednesday in an attempt to nullify the OSHA rule. Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., had introduced a companion version in the Senate. The measure is not expected to get enacted. 

The Defense Department asserted its ability to order vaccine mandates after the adjutant general of the Oklahoma National Guard said under his command vaccinations would not be required. “It's a lawful order and refusing to do that, absent of an approved exemption, puts them in the same potential [category] as active-duty members who refuse the vaccine,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said during a briefing on Monday. 

Pfizer announced on Tuesday it’s seeking emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for its COVID-19 oral medication. Merck, along with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, previously submitted an application for their antiviral pill to treat the coronavirus. 

The FDA could approve booster shots for all recipients of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as early as Thursday, The New York Times reported. “The FDA is expected to rule without consulting its own expert panel, which has met frequently during the pandemic to review vaccine data and make a recommendation ahead of a regulatory decision,” said the report. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s advisory committee is meeting on Friday, so if both agencies give the green light, then all adults 18 and up will be able to receive a booster shot at least six months after their second dose. 

The Defense Department inspector general recently released its oversight plan for fiscal 2022, which says “protecting the health and wellness of service members and their families” is a top challenge. The report notes that one of the IG’s ongoing audits is looking at whether or not the department’s use of tools for telework during the pandemic exposed its networks and systems to possible malicious activity. 

The Justice Department IG said “contingency planning post-pandemic” was a top challenge the department faced in 2021. “The department continues to face unprecedented and complex issues in meeting its responsibility to keep its employees, contractors, visitors, and workspaces safe,” said the report. “In addition to protecting its own workforce while continuing to perform its critical mission, most notably, DOJ encountered urgent and critical challenges arising from the pandemic in connection with its responsibility to maintain safe and secure custody of over 156,000 federal inmates and over 64,000 detainees.” 

The Health and Human Services Department IG on Tuesday also released a report on the department’s top challenges for fiscal 2021, which include many involving the pandemic. “Challenges related to the department’s COVID-19 response are primarily addressed in [top management and performance challenges] on public health,” said the report. “However, the COVID-19 response affects nearly every aspect of department operations, and challenges related to it are also addressed in other [top] challenges.” 

A National Institutes of Health-supported long-term study of children with COVID-19 has begun. The study “will track up to 1,000 children and young adults who previously tested positive for COVID-19 and evaluate the impact of COVID-19 on their physical and mental health over three years,” said a press release on Monday. “The study is expected to yield a detailed picture of COVID-19’s effects on the overall health of children, their development and immune responses to infection, and their overall quality of life in the years following infection.” 

Following the president’s enactment of the infrastructure bill, David Broome, executive vice president for government relations for the Professional Services Council, said on Tuesday, “the contractor industry stands ready to support the planning and execution of critical infrastructure programs, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to highlight the increasing risks in global supply chains, the importance of skilled workers, and the need for experience and expertise in compliance with evolving policies.”

On Tuesday, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Senate majority whip and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called for Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal to be replaced for his handling of the pandemic, among other things. “Director Carvajal was handpicked by former Attorney General Bill Barr and has overseen a series of mounting crises, including failing to protect BOP staff and inmates from the COVID-19 pandemic, failing to address chronic understaffing, failing to implement the landmark First Step Act, and more,” Durbin said in a statement. “It is past time for Attorney General Garland to replace Director Carvajal with a reform-minded director who is not a product of the BOP bureaucracy.” 

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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