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Coronavirus Roundup: Smooth Sailing on Test Kit Distribution, Kudos for Fauci and Collins

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

The White House COVID-19 response coordinator said during the coronavirus briefing on Wednesday that the government’s website for free COVID-19 tests “has worked very well.”

Also, “already tens of millions of tests have gone out the door and are arriving—and many have arrived—at people's mailboxes and doors,” said Jeff Zients. He added that the Biden administration will issue an initial report by the end of this week on orders. Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed. 

The National Defense Industrial Association issued a new white paper advocating against a full-year continuing resolution for fiscal 2022, partially due to the disruptions the pandemic has already caused for the defense industry base and workforce. The current continuing resolution runs until February 18. 

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra is facing criticism for taking a “back seat,” on the coronavirus response, The Hill reported on Wednesday. However, his spokesperson disputed the allegations brought forth by former officials and outside health experts.

Two medical experts at the Homeland Security Department––Drs. Scott Allen and Josiah Rich––sent a whistleblower disclosure to the heads of DHS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Wednesday calling on them to provide boosters to immigrant detainees. “​​Booster vaccinations are now the standard and are a top priority of the federal government’s response to present and future COVID threats,” they wrote. “DHS does not appear to have adopted this approach even in the face of the high, well-documented risks associated with detention settings. DHS's current version of the [ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations] Pandemic Response Requirements does not include recommendations for boosters,” which is dated October 19, 2021. Allen and Rich, who are being represented by the Government Accountability Project, have been raising concerns about COVID-19 in ICE and Customs and Border Protection facilities since early on in the pandemic. 

The Government Accountability Office published a report on Wednesday about how five selected agencies––the Agriculture, Homeland Security and Labor departments, Environmental Protection Agency and FBI––handled pandemic disruptions to Freedom of Information Act requests from fiscal years 2019 through 2020. “In general, we found that the selected agencies in our review managed the effects of the pandemic quickly and effectively after facing initial challenges,” said the report. “However, increasing FOIA request backlogs remain a persistent challenge. Other challenges also have emerged that may affect the efficiency of FOIA processing, such as FOIA litigation and the increasing complexity of requests.”

Over 200 lawmakers from both parties and in the House and Senate are calling on the Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service to provide certain penalty reliefs for taxpayers as the IRS faces massive backlogs of amended tax returns and other forms due to the pandemic. “Recognizing the extraordinary challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to the IRS operating with antiquated technology and a constrained budget, we find the current situation alarming,” said a letter on Wednesday. “We stand ready to support the IRS,” but request certain remedies in the meantime. 

The IRS did outline on Thursday how it's been modifying its operations and providing some relief to taxpayers during this new tax season. The Taxpayer Advocate Coalition said in a statement that this “is a good first step,” but does not go far enough to address their recommendations or those of the lawmakers.

The National Park Service proposed a new collection of information to “conduct epidemiological investigations in response to public health events of concern,” according to a request for comment published in the Federal Register on Thursday. “National Parks are federally managed lands where state and local health departments may not have jurisdiction, [and] the public health response rests with the NPS [Office of Public Health],” the comment request says. It does not mention COVID-19 or the pandemic specifically. 

The Treasury Department adopted as final the interim final rule published in May 2021 to implement the provisions for state and local recovery funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, which “provides broader flexibility and greater simplicity,” said the rule published in the Federal Register on Thursday.

The National Academy of Public Administration will be giving its “Elliot L. Richardson Prize for Excellence in Public Service” award to top public health officials Drs. Anthony Fauci and Francis Collins on February 16, for their long and prestigious careers in public service. “Their contributions, commitment and leadership in public health make them both outstanding role models for future generations of public servants,” said Terry Gerton, president and CEO of the academy, in a press release on Monday. 

Upcoming: White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will give a briefing at 1:30 p.m.

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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