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Coronavirus Roundup: More Tax Season Concerns; FDA Administrator Nomination Advances

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

As the Internal Revenue Service prepares for its third filing season during the pandemic, an independent organization within the agency that helps individual and business taxpayers resolve filing problems issued a dire warning. 

Upon releasing her office’s 2021 annual report to Congress, National Taxpayer Advocate Erin Collins said, “While my report focuses primarily on the problems of 2021, I am deeply concerned about the upcoming filing season.” The Treasury Department this week expressed similar fears about the upcoming tax season. 

“Over the past year, there has been a tendency to focus on the unique challenges posed by the pandemic and to attribute IRS service and technology shortcomings to these circumstances,” Collins wrote in the report. “There is no doubt the pandemic has had a big impact, but taxpayer services and technology at the IRS were inadequate long before the pandemic.” Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed.

President Biden announced on Thursday morning he is sending six additional military teams to help states with overwhelmed health care systems, including in Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Ohio and Rhode Island. Also, “In addition to the 500 million—half a billion—tests that [are] in the process of being acquired to ship to you at home for free, today, I am directing my team to procure an additional 500 million more tests to distribute for free. That will mean a billion tests in total to meet future demand,” Biden said. Finally, the president said next week the White House will be announcing a plan to make “high quality masks available for American people for free.” 

The White House has brought on a new COVID-19 testing coordinator. Tom Inglesby, former director of Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, will build on “plans to keep building on testing capacity that has already grown to about 300 million a month now, from 50 in September,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a tweet on Wednesday. Access to testing has been a major issue in the wake of the Omicron variant and holiday travel. 

Psaki was asked during a gaggle on Wednesday how Omicron is affecting White House operations. “We already had very strict precautions in place long before Omicron” on testing and mask wearing, which are continuing, she said. “The limiting to 30 and below [for gatherings] is something that is over the last several weeks,” Psaki said when pressed further. “And ensuring that everybody is being very strict with wearing their masks, even in their offices, unless they're alone, is also something we've all been very mindful of.’ 

Following attacks on Dr. Anthony Fauci during a Senate hearing on Tuesday, scientific and public health officials published a statement rallying around the top public health official, Politico reported on Thursday. “We deplore the personal attacks on Dr. Fauci. The criticism is inaccurate, unscientific, ill-founded in the facts and, increasingly, motivated by partisan politics,” the statement reads. “It is a distraction from what should be the national focus – working together to finally overcome a pandemic that is killing about 500,000 people a year. We are grateful for Dr. Fauci’s dedication and tireless efforts to help the country through this pandemic and other health crises.” 

A third appeals court will hear challenges to the vaccine mandate for federal contractors, Bloomberg Law reported on Wednesday. “The Justice Department will appeal a Louisiana federal court’s ruling that blocked President Joe Biden's order for government-contractor workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine,” said the report. “Appeals are ongoing in the Eleventh and Sixth circuits, respectively, over a nationwide injunction against the measure from a Georgia federal court and a narrower one from a Kentucky federal judge for a coalition that includes Ohio and Tennessee. A Missouri federal court also blocked the executive order, but that ruling has yet to be appealed.”

The Biden administration is now closer to having a confirmed administrator of the Food and Drug Administration. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee voted 13-8 on Thursday to advance Dr. Robert Califf’s nomination.

A House hearing next week will examine how to use the federal budget “to ensure an efficient federal response” for future pandemics and other disasters, said a press release from the office of Rep. Joe Morelle, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Rules Committee’s Panel on Legislative and Budget Process, on Wednesday. 

The Small Business Administration's watchdog testified before a House committee on Wednesday that managing pandemic stimulus lending “is the greatest overall challenge facing SBA.” This may continue for many years as the “agency grapples with fraud in the programs, particularly in the COVID Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program, and the process of Paycheck Protection Program loan forgiveness.”

The Defense Department released updated guidance on Monday about traveling during the pandemic, which applies to service members, family members, civilian employees and contractor personnel.

Upcoming: White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan will give a briefing at 3 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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