Coronavirus Roundup: Secret Service Ramps Up COVID-Investigations; Questions About New COVID Testing Website
Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.
The Office of Management and Budget announced on Tuesday it’s collecting feedback on the draft of a learning agenda to further the president’s management agenda, a top priority of which is empowering and strengthening the federal workforce.
“The Biden-Harris administration wants the federal government to be a model employer, operated by a talented, diverse, and engaged workforce. What are effective strategies to hire, retain, engage, and grow talent within the federal government?” the draft asks. “Many of these questions could leverage the recent workplace and hiring flexibilities that were implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. New evidence on these questions could guide decisions at agencies and may also have relevance for employers and organizations beyond the federal government.” Feedback on the learning agenda, which the administration said is the first of its kind, is due January 31. Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed.
During his remarks about combating the omicron variant on Tuesday, President Biden said, “I know vaccination requirements are unpopular for many. They're not even popular for those who are anxious to get them.” However, “my administration has put them in place not to control your life, but to save your life and the lives of others.”
During the briefing on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked if certain groups will be prioritized on the forthcoming website for Americans to obtain free rapid coronavirus tests. “We obviously want to do this in an equitable way; that is how we have approached every element of our COVID policy,” Psaki replied. “But that is part of what is being discussed and determined now.”
The U.S. Secret Service announced on Tuesday that Assistant Special Agent in Charge Roy Dotson of the Jacksonville field office will serve as the agency’s National Pandemic Fraud Recovery Coordinator. He “will coordinate efforts across multiple ongoing Secret Service investigations into the fraudulent use of COVID-19 relief applications,” said a press release. “To date, Secret Service investigations and investigative inquiries into [unemployment insurance] and [Small Business Administration] loan fraud have resulted in the seizure of more than $1.2 billion and the return of more than $2.3 billion of fraudulently obtained funds via Automated Clearing House reversals.” This has led to the arrest of 100 individuals so far. The agency has been working closely with the Labor Department, SBA’s inspector general office and the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee.
On Tuesday, the Justice Department reversed a Trump-era legal opinion that would have required thousands of federal inmates now on home confinement due to the pandemic to return to their prisons when the president ends the state of emergency for the pandemic. “In light of today’s Office of Legal Counsel opinion, I have directed that the department engage in a rulemaking process to ensure that the department lives up to the letter and the spirit of the CARES Act,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland in a statement. “We will exercise our authority so that those who have made rehabilitative progress and complied with the conditions of home confinement, and who in the interests of justice should be given an opportunity to continue transitioning back to society, are not unnecessarily returned to prison.”
On Monday, a federal judge in Missouri issued a preliminary injunction blocking the contractor vaccine mandate in 10 states, which adds to the nationwide preliminary injunction issued by a different judge earlier this month, The Associated Press reported.
Two top House Republicans pressed Labor Secretary Marty Walsh for information on Tuesday about when Labor Department employees will return to workplaces, data on the daily presence in buildings, pay situation or remote employees and the secretary’s “lack of attendance in Washington, D.C.” Reps. Virginia Foxx, R-Va., and James Comer, R-Ky., ranking members of the House Education and Labor and Oversight and Reform committees, respectively, received a response to an earlier letter earlier this month but were not satisfied with the answers.
Four Democratic lawmakers are calling on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Health and Human Services Department to resume data collection on breakthrough infections as the omicron variant spreads. “We urge you to resume collecting data on COVID-19 breakthrough infections nationwide with breakdowns by race, ethnicity, and other demographic characteristics and to make this data publicly available as soon as possible,” wrote the lawmakers. This “would allow experts to better understand patterns in breakthrough cases, identify COVID-19 variants earlier, and analyze the potential effect of compounding ‘racial and ethnic inequities in wealth, health, education, work housing, and medical care’ on vaccine response.”
Federal News Network looked at how five federal agencies are handling the return to office process in the new year: The Agriculture Department, Social Security Administration, National Science Foundation, Environmental Protection Agency and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
- White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will give a briefing at 2:30 p.m.
- The White House COVID-19 response team and public health officials will give a briefing at 3 p.m.
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