Coronavirus Roundup: A Watchdog Highlights Concerns of Payment Integrity in COVID Funds
There’s a lot to keep track of. Here’s a list of this week’s news updates and stories you may have missed.
Payment integrity continues to be a pressing issue with pandemic relief funds, the Government Accountability Office said in its 10th comprehensive report on the federal government’s coronavirus response released on Wednesday.
The watchdog reiterated its previous recommendations “that Congress consider amending the Payment Integrity Information Act of 2019 to designate all new executive agency programs—such as those created specifically to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic—making more than $100 million annually in payments as ‘susceptible to significant improper payments’ for their initial years of operation.” GAO also recommended that the Office of Management and Budget “require agencies to certify the reliability of submitted improper payment data;” OMB neither agreed nor disagreed.
Other recommendations in the new report involved the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s COVID funeral assistance program and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's COVID-19 surveillance and data collection efforts. Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed.
Moderna is now formally asking the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization for its vaccine for young children. The company said in a press release on Thursday that the submission will be complete next week. Dr. Robert Califf, FDA commissioner, said during a hearing on Thursday that the agency will move along to review Moderna’s application and not wait for Pfizer/BioNTech’s submission, which was a potential previous plan, ABC News reported.
Also, Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, told The Washington Post in an interview published on Friday, “We are not going to delay things unnecessarily here.”
In other vaccine news, Pfizer/BioNTech submitted an application to the FDA on Tuesday for emergency use authorization for a booster shot for kids ages five to 11, following “a strong immune response” in phrase two/three clinical trials.
The FDA announced on Friday a “tentative” schedule for its Vaccines and Related Biological Products advisory committee to meet to discuss forthcoming applications for vaccine authorizations. “The agency is committed to a thorough and transparent process that considers the input of our independent advisors and provides insight into our review of the COVID-19 vaccines,” Marks said in a statement. “We intend to move quickly with any authorizations that are appropriate once our work is completed.”
Earlier this week, the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis released a report that argues Trump political appointees “overruled” Defense Department career officials in order to approve a $700 million loan to a trucking company for a CARES Act program for national security. The career officials assessed that the company, YRC Worldwide Inc. (now named Yellow Corporation) “was not ‘critical’ to national security—a requirement under the CARES Act,” said a press release. “Career officials found that Yellow’s services could be replaced by other companies and expressed concern about an ongoing Department of Justice lawsuit against Yellow for fraudulently overcharging DoD, which Yellow misleadingly described as merely a ‘contractual dispute.’”
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement processing center in South Texas (that is owned and operated by GEO Group Inc.) took some actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19; however, it didn’t “consistently enforce some guidelines,” said a new report from the Homeland Security Department inspector general, based on an unannounced inspection in September 2021.
Dr. Deborah Birx, White House COVID-19 response coordinator under President Trump, told ABC News that she and the other doctors on the COVID-19 response team, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, agreed that if one of them were fired, then they would all resign.
In her newly released book, she wrote that the Trump administration “should get credit” for removing barriers and speeding up the process to develop vaccines and treatments through “Operation Warp Speed,” a public-private partnership. “That being said, I was continually struck by the disconnect between words and actions with this administration and this president.”
The White House released a report on Thursday about what the Biden administration has done to help small businesses, such as through COVID-19 relief programs. For example, the report outlines “improvements” made in 2021 to the Small Business Administration's COVID-19 economic injury disaster loan program.
President Biden will skip the eating portions of the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner on Saturday due to COVID-19 precautions, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said earlier this week. Following the high number of COVID-19 positive cases after the Gridiron dinner earlier this month, there has been concern about the dinner and related events in Washington, D.C. Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to the president and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, backed out of the dinner due to his personal risk level.
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