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Coronavirus cases among federal employees are piling up across the country. The Transportation Security Administration is tracking 43 positive cases among TSA screeners and 7 cases among non-screeners over the last 14 days. The agency created an online tool where the public can track positive cases depending on the airport, terminal and checkpoint. 160 employees at Customs and Border Protection have coronavirus. And at least two employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs have died due to coronavirus. One was a nurse in Nevada. The other was an emergency medical technician in Louisiana. Both were members of the American Federation of Government Employees. And both were veterans.
The Department of Homeland Security released interim guidance yesterday to ease the burden on agencies when securing network access for remote workers. As Federal News Network first reported the development of this guidance last week. The document offers ways agencies can adapt the Trusted Internet Connections 3.0 to meet the needs of teleworkers who are connecting to cloud services. DHS outlines a subset of the security capabilities that are applicable to the current telework surge and can be used to prevent, mitigate and detect some of the emerging threats. The guidance will remain in effect through the end of calendar year 2020.
The biggest database of coronavirus available to researchers launches on Monday. Artificial intelligence company C-3.ai joins with Microsoft and MIT, among others, plus several federal agencies to create a data lake, and 26 petaflops of supercomputer power available free to scientists to analyze it. C-3.ai chairman Tom Siebel says he’s confident the project will yield answers for stopping the spread and coming up with a cure. Many data sets came from several Health and Human Services agencies. The call for proposals ends May 1. (Business Wire)
The White House wants to give the Small Business Administration another $512 billion to provide more loans and payments under the Paycheck Protection Program. The extra money would help SBA keep up with the demand being placed on the program during the coronavirus pandemic. As of Tuesday, the Office of Management and Budget says SBA has recorded over 220,000 loans totaling approximately $66 billion OMB says the funds appropriated for this program will soon be exhausted given the current rate of requests. The administration wants Congress to increase the paycheck program by $251 billion and the loan guarantee program by $261 billion.
The Defense Department is partnering with the Small Business Administration to help industry get assistance and ask questions about support during the COVID-19 crisis. The two agencies held a webinar to inform companies of their options like the payment protection program and other loans to keep businesses afloat and paying employees. DoD is trying to grow its industrial base to provide more innovative products, it is now trying to protect companies already in that base from falling prey to coronavirus.
Military relief organizations say they are bracing for a surge in requests from military families in response to the coronavirus. The organizations provide funds for childcare, hospital bills, funeral costs and lost wages in the form of grants and loans. So far, the individual military service organizations have only provided about half a million dollars in assistance. However, now that bills are coming due, the leaders of the relief entities say they expect many more military families to apply for aid. (Federal News Network)
The Army Corps of Engineers is working on dozens of temporary hospital sites around the country. Its commander says now’s the time for state and local officials to decide whether they want the corps’ help. Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite says there’s only about a week left before it will no longer make sense to start building new temporary medical facilities. That’s because getting contracts in place and doing the construction work has typically taken several weeks. The Corps of Engineers is already working on 17 hospital construction projects. Several dozen more are awaiting contract awards or still under consideration.
If you are a vendor who can quickly provide personal protective gear or other supplies to help respond to the coronavirus pandemic, the General Services Administration wants to hear from you. GSA issued a sources sought notice yesterday seeking vendors who can supply some or all of the 14 products detailed ranging from level 1 surgical masks to antibacterial soap. Vendors who can provide these products in the next 30 days are especially encouraged to respond.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is delaying its signature IT project. No surprise, but the VA is delaying the rollout of its electronic health record due to the coronavirus. VA Secretary Robert Wilkie told Congress the agency had to reallocate IT staff to support its coronavirus response. The department had planned for an initial go-live of the new EHR sometime this summer. That plan is indefinitely on hold. House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano says he supports the decision so IT staff can continue to help with COVID-19 response. (House Veterans Affairs Committee)
The intelligence community now has some much-anticipated contracting guidance from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. ODNI is encouraging all intelligence agencies to ensure contractors get paid when they can’t safely report to their work sites due to coronavirus. Contractors should be reimbursed up to 40 hours a week per employee. Modifying existing contracts will help agencies retain cleared employees. ODNI says it’ll support intelligence agencies if acquisition milestones slip during the pandemic.
House Democrats introduced a bill to broaden the criteria for inspectors general to serve as the head of a coronavirus spending oversight board. The bill would allow a governmentwide IG council to name any IG, deputy IG, or senior IG office staffer to lead the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee. The IG council last week chose Glenn Fine, the Defense Department’s acting IG, to serve as the pandemic committee’s chair. But President Donald Trump made Fine ineligible for the post when he named a new acting DOD IG. (House Oversight and Reform Committee)
The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee also has a playbook to fight fraud. Compared to the 2008 recession, the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee will oversee more than twice the amount of stimulus money. But it will have better technology to flag and stop fraud. Former head of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board Earl Devaney said I-Gs now have off-the-shelf tools for data analytics that the RAT Board pioneered more than a decade ago. Devaney says the pandemic board should also run a site like recovery-dot-got to help the public report fraud.