Popular coronavirus stats website might get federal help

In today's Federal Newscast, the world's favorite web site right now is about to get a fresh chunk of federal grant money.

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  • The world’s new favorite website is about to get a fresh chunk of federal grant money. The COVID-19 interactive dashboard, hosted by Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering, will receive $200,000 from the National Science Foundation, under the NSF Rapid Response Research grant program. Congress appropriated that pot of money as part of the CARES Act. Maryland Congressional delegation members say the money will help enhance the widely-viewed dashboard, with coronavirus data down to the city level.
  • House committee leaders met for the first time over videoconference, as lawmakers experiment with ways to keep Congress working remotely. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) led the virtual meeting at the suggestion of a bipartisan task force charged with testing and troubleshooting remote solutions. House leaders scrapped a vote last week on a temporary rules change that would allow some members to vote on behalf of others that can’t make it back to the Capitol safely.
  • The House isn’t scheduled to meet next week, however the Senate will be back in session. But Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said lawmakers need a plan to protect staff and Capitol Police from catching the coronavirus. Van Hollen recommended limiting the number of staff required to come to the Capitol and requiring social distancing for votes and hearings. The senator noted that 11 Architect of the Capitol employees recently tested positive for the virus while renovating the Cannon House Office Building.
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would see its sexual harassment prevention policy expand under a bill introduced in the House. The NOAA Sexual Harassment and Assault Prevention Improvements Act would require the agency to set up an easy method for employees to report sexual harassment complaints anonymously. The bill would also expand NOAA’s sexual harassment reports requirements to Congress. NOAA reported about two dozen allegations of harassment between 2015 and 2019.
  • Transition planning during the pandemic may not be easy. Experts warned agencies may have a difficult time in preparing for the presidential transition and responding to the coronavirus pandemic with hundreds of political appointee positions vacant. About a third of Senate-confirmed political appointee positions are unfilled, and 146 positions have no nominee. Experts say the vacancies, pandemic and presidential transition will all pose challenges and additional responsibilities for career federal employees. The Office of Management and Budget asked agencies to start transition preparations earlier this week.
  • The IRS sent out more than 130 million pandemic stimulus payments in its first month. Those payments total more than $200 billion. More than 120 million people have checked on the status of their payment through an online tracker, and more than 10 million people have updated their banking information in the past two weeks. The agency brought back 10,000 employees back into the office this week as part of a phased reopening of 10 campus locations. (Taxpayer Advocate)
  • Some coronavirus stimulus money is going towards research to actually fight the disease. The National Institutes of Health is using $1.5 billion from the stimulus bill to launch a new initiative to find innovative technologies to speed up the development of a widely accessible and rapid test for the coronavirus. NIH is looking for scientists and inventors with a rapid testing technology to compete in a national COVID-19 testing challenge for a share of up to $500 million over all phases of development. NIH will work with the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority on the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) initiative.
  • Military officials are worried about the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on small companies in its supply chain for space systems. The Air Force and Space Force said they’re distributing a new survey to help identify firms that need immediate financial help to weather the crisis. Officials say they’re most concerned about third- and fourth-tier suppliers in the small launch, commercial satellite communications, and micro-electronic sectors.
  • The Pentagon said it’s using the Defense Production Act to boost the production of cotton swabs needed to test for coronavirus. DoD awarded a $75 million DPA contract to Puritan Medical Products. The company will use the money to build a new factory in Maine and hire 150 workers. Officials said the facility should be up and running by May, and it’ll be able to produce about 20 million swabs each month.
  • It’s going to take more time for the Navy to evaluate the events surrounding the coronavirus outbreak aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt. Adm. Michael Gilday, the chief of naval operations, has already recommended that the Navy reinstate Capt. Brett Crozier, the Roosevelt commanding officer who was fired after his request for help went public. But James McPherson, the new acting Navy secretary, said Gilday’s initial investigation left too many unanswered questions about how the Navy handled the incident. He’s told the CNO to conduct a second, more wide-ranging review. (Federal News Network)
  • The American Federation of Government Employees has its concerns about the president’s recent executive order requiring meat processing plants to stay open. AFGE represents 6,500 federal food inspectors and at least 137 of them have been diagnosed with COVID-19. The union said these inspectors lack the right protective gear to work alongside frontline employees at meat packing plants. President Donald Trump signed an executive order earlier this week prohibiting the plants from closing.
  • Small and micro agencies will soon have a new cyber shared service to help them secure their networks and data. The Department of Homeland Security and the General Services Administration are ready to give 75 small and micro agencies the next set of cyber capabilities under the continuous diagnostics and mitigation program. GSA, which acts as the procurement arm for CDM, awarded CGI Federal a $276 million task order to provide a host of services. These include a shared services catalog of capabilities and services and an updated version of the shared services platform that provides network security management and data protection management capabilities. Currently about 34 small and micro agencies use the shared services under CDM. (Yahoo)

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