During an interview with Stat News on Monday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and coronavirus task force member, said his “meetings with the president have been dramatically decreased” after having daily task force meetings for weeks that included the president 75% of the time. CNN reported on Monday that Fauci hasn’t spoken with President Trump in two weeks. Fauci also told Stat News, “it’s aspirational, but it’s certainly doable” to develop a vaccine by the end of the year. Here are some other recent headlines you might have missed.
Tuesday’s primary elections are likely to be a test for the U.S. Postal Service as many states have expanded vote-by-mail access due to the pandemic. Despite the fact that the agency has high favorability, it faces severe funding issues and has new management and the president has been repeatedly attacking the credibility of vote-by-mail, NPR reported on Monday.
This year four states have made absentee voting easier for the general election and 24 made absentee voting easier for primaries (there is some overlap between the two.) Twenty-six states made no significant change. Also, Kentucky is a state that made absentee voting for primaries easier, but also imposed some new voting restrictions, The Washington Post reported on Tuesday.
The Health and Human Services Department inspector general outlined its early actions to respond to the pandemic in its semi-annual report on Monday, which covers Oct. 1, 2019 to March 31, 2020. The HHS IG “immediately deployed law enforcement personnel in its emergency support function…role to provide federal public safety and security assistance to local, state, tribal, territorial and federal organizations,” said the report. It also “made operational and procedural changes to protect the safety and wellbeing of OIG employees and contractors while continuing to fulfill our mission.”
Adm. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Public Health Service, will be “demobilized” from his role as head of the federal government’s coronavirus testing efforts in mid-June, NPR reported on Monday night. “While Adm. Giroir will remain engaged with the COVID-19 testing and related efforts, many of the day-to-day management and operations of testing are being transitioned to HHS operating divisions,” an HHS spokesperson told NPR. This will allow Giroir “to return to the key public health responsibilities of the Assistant Secretary for Health.”
Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C, chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, and Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., chairwoman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, asked HHS on Tuesday for information on its coronavirus research contracts with private companies. “We are seeking to determine whether these contracts include provisions to ensure affordability and prevent profiteering, and we seek documents and information about the department’s funding of coronavirus research,” they wrote. The lawmakers would like their requested documents and information by June 16 and a staff briefing by June 19.
On Monday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement updated its coronavirus website with more statistics about the detainees in its custody. The page now includes the numbers for the total detention population, confirmed coronavirus cases by facility, detainees in isolation, deaths related to the virus by facility and detainees tested.
Henry Lucero, ICE executive associate director for enforcement and removal operations, said during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday the agency is only testing detainees if they show coronavirus symptoms, not when they enter facilities. Also, Lucero confirmed there isn’t a formal policy to test deportees for coronavirus before they are deported, CQ reported.
The Federal Workers Alliance, which represents about 300,000 federal workers, wrote to President Trump on Monday about safety precautions for employees returning to worksites. Some of their requests include giving “liberal accommodations” for those most at risk, providing employees with protective gear and cleaning supplies and granting administrative leave to those exposed to coronavirus, according to the letter sent to the press.
The Office of Personnel Management released guidance on a phased approach for employees returning to their facilities, Federal News Network reported on Monday. Security staff and staff who engage with the public or provide building services will be provided with personal protective equipment. Face coverings are recommended, but not required, said the guidance. This is a “framework that is intended to support OPM supervisors with guidelines and planning considerations for how to evaluate the needs of employees as OPM returns from a max telework operating status,” said OPM. “With over 20 individual properties whose occupancy ranges from 2 to over 1,200 people, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.”
The Chief Human Capital Officers Council (chaired by the OPM director) sent a memo to chief human capital officers on Monday about the impact of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s service changes due to construction on their return to work, Federal News Network noted. “As we move through the three-phase process, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is strongly encouraging agencies to allow affected employees in the Washington, DC, area to utilize various workplace flexibilities throughout the WMATA project, including telework and alternative work schedules,” said the memo. “To further assist, OPM would like to remind agencies of our guidance on the use of alternative work schedules and telework during the WMATA project.”
On Monday, Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., announced they wrote to Federal Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal on Friday urging him to require all BOP inmates and staffers to be tested for coronavirus. “Little information has emerged about the COVID-19 diagnostic testing being conducted by BOP,” they wrote. “Earlier this month, BOP announced in a tweet that ‘of the roughly 2,700 inmates tested, approximately 70% have tested positive for COVID-19.’ This extremely high positive test rate suggests that BOP is not testing sufficient numbers of incarcerated individuals and staff.” While BOP has expanded inmate testing, it “cannot require that staff members be tested for COVID-19,” Justin Long, BOP spokesperson, told Government Executive in late May. “We encourage wardens to identify and publish available testing sites in the community where interested staff may be tested.”
BOP Director Michael Carvajal testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. “The bureau’s response and management of COVID has received a great deal of congressional, media, and stakeholder interest and scrutiny in the wake of this pandemic,” he said in his opening statement. “Much of this inquiry has been based on misinformation as to our response. The Bureau has a sound pandemic plan in place and a well-established history of managing and responding to communicable disease outbreaks, such as influenza.”
The Homeland Security Department said in its weekly update that the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers will restart their training programs for federal law enforcement officers on June 17. “The new FLETC will look just like home to most of our students and staff. Our new training environment, with our emphasis on social distancing, continuous monitoring and hygiene includes many of the features most communities have already adopted,” said Director Thomas Walters last week. “Our plan to restart on-site training operations strikes the appropriate balance of mitigating risk to those involved in training, while reducing negative impacts to the operations of the many agencies that rely on FLETC for all or part of their law enforcement training.”
Advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility said on Monday the National Park Service is reopening national parks without proper instituting proper social distancing measures. “If state and local governments, and even Disney World, can enforce social distancing and mask requirements in parks, on beaches, and in other public places, it is not clear why the National Park Service is unable to do so,” PEER Pacific Director Jeff Ruch said. “The Park Service claim that it can limit risks through adaptive management is the sort of fantasy we would expect to see celebrated in a Disney theme park, not by a federal agency.”
The Agriculture Department’s annual campaign for federal employees to donate to food banks and pantries is pivoting to virtual platforms this year due to the pandemic. The agency launched a new website for donations and is doing online campaigns, Federal Times reported on Monday. This year’s campaign overlaps with the OPM’s “special solicitation” for the Combined Federal Campaign, the annual giving drive that usually occurs in the fall and winter.
On Tuesday, the Justice Department inspector general published a fraud alert it sent all Justice procurement executives on May 22 regarding pandemic-related fraud. The IG “has become aware of instances in which DoJ components may have been provided substandard or mislabeled personal protective equipment, including N-95 and KN-95 face mask respirators…[and] has received allegations of pandemic-related price gouging,” said the alert. It also encouraged the executives to work with their staff to mitigate such issues and report any concerns to the IG.
The Labor Department IG told the House Oversight and Reform Government Operations Subcommittee on Monday that there is great risk for fraud with the Labor Department’s unemployment assistance program for pandemic relief. “The Department of Labor Office of Inspector General will help ensure taxpayer dollars are spent lawfully by identifying improper payments and fraud in the unemployment insurance program,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., subcommittee chair, in a statement to the press on Tuesday. “I am pleased that the IG is coordinating with all U.S. Attorney’s Offices to address unemployment insurance fraud and has produced a heat map with a target amount of fraud in each of their districts.”
Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode looks at a possible national vote-by-mail system in wake of the pandemic and other pressing topics the government faces during this time such as intelligence community operations, Freedom of Information Act requests and oversight of health care programs and funds.
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