Paul Sancya / AP

Coronavirus Roundup: Postal Service Expresses Concerns on Vaccine Rule; EPA Union Reaches Agreement on Vaccine Mandate

Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.

The COVID-19 vaccine mandate for federal contractors “has been a very challenging thing to navigate,” as shown by the “evolution of guidance,” as well as the lawsuits attempting to challenge it, Justin Chiarodo, partner in and chair of the government contractors practice group at the law firm Blank Rome LLP, told Government Executive earlier this week. Chiarodo and his firm’s clients have concerns about how the mandate could impact the supply chain crisis and labor shortages. He also pointed out that on November 17, the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council is poised to submit a report on its rule that will amend contracts to incorporate the vaccine mandate. Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed.

The union that represents 7,500 employees at the Environmental Protection Agency announced on Tuesday it entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with agency management on implementation of the vaccine mandate. “The [memorandum] ensures that Council 238 bargaining unit employees requiring exceptions to the mandate will receive due process as provided under the Council’s Master Collective Bargaining Agreement while at the same time protecting the safety and health of the overall bargaining unit,” said a statement from American Federation of Government Employees Council 238. Joyce Howell, Council 238 chief negotiator for the future of work negotiations, said that over 90% of the bargaining unit is fully vaccinated. 

The U.S. Postal Service said in a recent financial filing that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s new vaccine rule “will be extremely challenging to implement and administer during the height of our peak season, particularly given its expedited schedule,” Reuters reported on Wednesday. The report noted: “Compliance, the USPS warned, ‘could result in labor challenges and high levels of absenteeism.’ Some employees could opt to leave, which ‘could cause significant business disruptions, and could adversely impact service performance and result in lower mail volume and revenue.’” 

The latest Politico/Morning Consult poll shows that voter sentiment on Biden’s vaccine mandates has dropped slightly. “[Fifty-one percent] support requiring federal workers and contractors to get vaccinated without an option to opt out through regular testing (down 6 points since September),” Politico reported on Wednesday. “[Fifty-five percent] support requiring all employers with 100 or more employees to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations or weekly testing (down 3 percentage points since September).” Also, on the government’s ability to issue such mandates, “these views held relatively steady for Democrats and Republicans, but there was a 10-point jump since September in independent voters feeling these mandates violated rights.” 

Several top public health officials in the Biden administration want to make booster shots more widely available, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director is being more cautious, The Washington Post reported on Thursday. “Most of the administration’s senior health officials—including Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy; and David Kessler, chief science officer of the White House coronavirus response team—are strong supporters of booster shots for all adults, according to people familiar with their views,” said the report. Meanwhile, “[CDC Director Rochelle] Walensky has expressed caution about making extra shots so broadly available now,” so “tension is rising among officials over how quickly to proceed and who should get the shots.” 

The White House called on Congress on Friday morning to pass bipartisan, full fiscal 2022 appropriations bills in order to address the pressing needs of the nation, such as to respond to the pandemic and respond to future public health crises. “The president's budget and the House and Senate appropriations bills would provide at least $1.6 billion more funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, $0.2 billion more funding for the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, and $0.2 billion more funding for the Strategic National Stockpile, compared to continuation of 2021 funding levels,” said a fact sheet from the White House. 

10 states filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration for its Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services rule that requires vaccinations for health care workers in Medicare and Medicaid programs, NPR reported on Thursday

The inspector general for the Federal Election Commission said in a new report that the ongoing pandemic poses management and performance challenges going into fiscal 2022. “Uncertainty remains regarding how the post-pandemic work environment will look for the FEC,” said the report. “Hybrid work and flexibility appear to be permanent expectations for the new workplace. However, as federal office returns accelerate, some employees may want to pursue different options. Employees may seek other remote employment options, resign, or retire, if eligible. Accordingly, the transition back to the office may result in significant employee turnover which could directly impact the agency’s human capital resources.” 

In the early months of the pandemic, the Federal Emergency Management Agency didn’t always accurately record its pandemic contracts into the Federal Procurement Data System, the Homeland Security Department inspector general said in a recent report. “Of the 128 COVID-19 contract actions FEMA awarded under unusual and compelling urgency from March 13, 2020 through May 31, 2020, it mislabeled 42, or approximately 33%, as ‘full and open competition after exclusion of sources,’” said the report. “Additionally, FEMA did not always assign the [National Interest Action] code to COVID-19 contract data.”

The White House announced on Wednesday new efforts to support equity in the pandemic response, using funding from the American Rescue Plan. One example is that the “[CDC] is investing $35 million to expand activities in recruitment and pipeline programs to support diversity, equity and inclusion in the public health workforce and increase awareness and interest in public health among underrepresented groups,” said a press release. 

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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