Pandemic Phase II: The Reckoning

As the Great Pandemic lumbers into its second six months, the novelty has worn off like the red coating on an Atomic Fireball. Now come the reckonings and the dealings.

One thing’s for sure: The coronavirus pandemic has added to the general crabbiness of the nation — just as cold and early darkness arrive.

It wasn’t a fistfight over, say, mask-wearing. But a testy exchange between Anthony Fauci and Senator Rand Paul came close. Paul made the types of statements politicians make at hearings because hearings are rarely designed to actually learn anything. A clearly exasperated but also un-cowed and in-control Fauci pushed back, hard. It wasn’t quite a Welch-McCarthy “Have you no sense of decency, sir?” moment, but the exchange was refreshing.

Paul could be right or wrong, but we’re not going to get to good policy with hearings like that.

Down here in Regularville, a couple of things came up in the past week that point to what federal people will be dealing with in the second half-year.

First is that reckoning. When it comes to pandemic spending, even small percentages produce big numbers. At an Association of Government Accountants online meeting, the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee’s acting chair, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, put it this way: “We’re very concerned about misuse of funds; we’re concerned whether we can identify all fraudulent activity.”

One percent of $1 trillion is $10 billion. If only 1% of the money Congress appropriated turns out to have been misspent, that’s $30 billion. Horowitz said he thinks the fraud levels will be north of 5%. That would be at least $150 billion in improper spending from the Cares Act. An amount equal to the entire Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) component of the Cares Act.

Imagine the hearings that will produce. I imagine they’ll start sometime around Thanksgiving.

The Government Accountability Office is concerned about the CRF. It’s calling for Treasury and the White House to update “as soon as possible” its Compliance Supplement “to provide the necessary audit guidance, as many single audit efforts are underway.” Agencies use the supplement to audit the non-federal governmental entities that receive CRF funds.

The same GAO report that contained that bit of advice also had recommendations on supply chain, vaccine creation, COVID-19 data collection, contracting and cybersecurity.

In other words, if you work for Defense, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Small Business Administration, Treasury, get used to life under a microscope.

As for the dealings, if you’re a federal manager you’ve got to deal with telework that may not end for many more months.

By all reports, agencies have adapted well to the technology requirements of teleworking. People have the machines and bandwidth they need. And all the cloud applications and video conferencing software.

What all the Teams meetings cannot produce is the team itself, the huddle, the spontaneous interactions. People are susceptible to telework-induced loneliness. Or if not loneliness, the fatigue from any of several factors — stuck in four walls to work; sharing resources with others in the household, all of whom are annoying; getting fat from snacking; trying not to watch General Hospital.

I spoke with Jeff Shilling, the chief information officer at the National Cancer Institute. He’s both a tech and a manager. He said NCI, and the National Institutes of Health in general, has added several programs to make life easier for employees. These include online training and wellness programs, and more scheduling flexibility.

“We’re functional. We’re moving along,” Shilling said. “It’s just a matter of how long we can continue to do this when we weren’t designed or built to do it this way.” He added that surveys have given management staff clues to how the staff is doing, although they can’t ask people directly about their mental health.

I think the concern most managers and agency executives have is this: People aren’t going stark raving mad, but will a weariness seep in such that the high productivity levels agencies have seen will diminish? The long-term answer might be to simply let people choose what’s the best work situation for themselves.

Meantime, everybody keep cool.

P.S. A video out there has gotten more than 12 million views. It shows shows the surveillance camera view of a short, wide driveway. Little kids on tiny bicycles zoom in and out. Rather than yell at them to get off the property, the owner each night chalks out a miniature race track on the driveway. It starts to attract kids of all sizes, their dog-walking parents watching from the sidewalk. At one point a guy on a Vespa tries out the course.

Better than a lawn sign for a politician that, guaranteed, 50% of the passersby don’t like.

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Alazar Moges

Although Atlantic City isn’t seeing the same success it once had, its world famous boardwalk still holds the title as the longest in the world, as well as oldest, having first opened in 1870.

Source: Visit NJ

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Oct 29, 2020 Close Change YTD*
L Income 21.4513 0.0314 1.59%
L 2025 10.2950 0.0346 -
L 2030 35.1256 0.1462 1.76%
L 2035 10.3802 0.0473 -
L 2040 38.6498 0.1922 1.73%
L 2045 10.4416 0.0555 -
L 2050 22.5586 0.128 1.64%
L 2055 10.5611 0.0752 -
L 2060 10.5612 0.0753 -
L 2065 10.5612 0.0752 -
G Fund 16.4844 0.0003 0.76%
F Fund 20.9739 -0.0509 6.75%
C Fund 49.1202 0.5843 5.50%
S Fund 59.6906 0.5324 3.45%
I Fund 29.4250 -0.0061 -6.83%
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