American Oversight’s Covid-19 Oversight Hub provides news and policy resources to help you keep track of investigations into the government’s pandemic response. The project brings together a public documents database, an oversight tracker of important ongoing investigations and litigation, regular news updates, and deeper dives into key issues.
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Congressional Hearing This Week
- Wed., June 9: The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing to discuss the U.S. role in the international response to the pandemic.
The Pandemic’s Toll
NBC News reported that as of last week, more than 600,000 people in the United States have died from Covid-19 and that the daily death rate remains well over 100. New Covid-19 variants also remain a concern. Recent data show that in the U.K., where daily case counts dropped to almost the single digits, coronavirus cases are rising again thanks to the spread of the Delta variant, which was first identified in India.
Children also remain at risk of contracting the disease. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a study showing that among adolescents, the number of hospitalizations related to Covid-19, while rare, was about three times greater than hospitalizations linked to influenza. In many states, adolescents may only receive Pfizer’s vaccine with a parent or guardian’s consent — a hurdle that could delay vaccination for thousands of children in foster care and unaccompanied migrant children.
Disparities Persist in Vaccinations
More than 60 percent of U.S. adults have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. But as the Biden administration pushes toward the goal of having 70 percent of adults vaccinated by July 4, vast disparities remain. As of Monday, less than one-quarter of Black Americans had received a shot. While multiple Spanish-language campaigns and community health centers have reached the Hispanic community, public health experts say targeted messaging is needed to share factual and scientific information with Black Americans.
In the States
- In a dozen states — California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Vermont — 70 percent of adult residents have received at least one Covid vaccine shot.
- But in other states, vaccination rates remain low. At current rates, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Wyoming won’t have vaccinated 70 percent of adults until the end of the year, or even later.
In May, the U.S. unemployment rate fell to 5.8 percent, the first time it has dropped below 6 percent since the pandemic began. The economy also added 559,000 jobs in May, a number that is greater than the previous month but still below some economists’ expectations. The coronavirus crisis led to the initial loss of 22 million jobs, and today, the U.S. is still more than 7 million jobs short. At this rate, many economists expect that the labor market may not recover until 2022.
Investigating Covid-19’s Origins
Last week, Dr. Anthony Fauci called on China to release the medical records of nine people, including three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology who became sick in November 2019. Fauci said the records could help improve understanding about the origins of the disease and about whether Covid-19 first emerged as the result of a lab accident. Fauci’s comments come as support grows among members of Congress in both parties for a congressional inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus.
The U.S. Looks Abroad
Last week, Biden announced that the U.S. will donate 25 million doses of surplus coronavirus vaccines overseas through COVAX, a World Health Organization program that seeks to improve global vaccine access. Biden’s announcement came just after the WHO said that cases were spiking in Africa, but that vaccine shipments had come to “a near halt.” In Latin America, the virus continues to spread, with countries like Argentina reporting more than 30,000 cases every day. Thus far, the White House has committed to sharing 80 million vaccine doses with other countries by the end of June.
Oversight of Federal Funds
- Use of Supplemental Funds for Administering Covid-19 Programs: The Government Accountability Office published a report on the Small Business Administration’s use of supplemental appropriations provided in 2020 for administrative expenses. Congress provided the SBA with about $3.4 billion in these funds to administer small business assistance during the Covid-19 pandemic, including loan programs such as the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loans.
- The Thirteenth Report of the Congressional Oversight Commission: The commission released a report focused on the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility (TALF). The TALF, which functioned from March to December 2020, enabled the Federal Reserve to make loans to U.S. companies that were secured by asset-backed securities. According to the report, TALF issued only $4.4 billion in loans that were distributed to 20 investment funds.
- Defense Department Strategies to Protect Service Members’ Health: The GAO reviewed the Defense Department’s pandemic response guidance and plans to assess the agency’s strategy for protecting military service members’ health. The office also reviewed Pentagon briefings on the progress of health protection measures and analyzed the agency’s 2020 data on Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations, and testing.
- Digital Vaccine Credentials: The GAO released a brief report highlighting potential opportunities and disadvantages associated with digital vaccine credentials, popularly referred to as “vaccine passports.” The report found that these credentials would have to be part of a unified national digital system to be successful, and that such a system could raise concerns about data protection and wider equity.
- Investigation into National Security Loan: The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis wrote to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, defense contractor Crowley Logistics, and defense subcontractor Yellow Corporation seeking information and documents related to the subcommittee’s investigation of a $700 million Treasury Department loan awarded during the Trump administration. The Treasury awarded the loan as part of a program for companies critical to national security during the pandemic, but the Congressional Oversight Commission has previously reported that Yellow Corporation was “not critical to maintaining national security” — and that the company was subject to an active lawsuit by the Justice Department for knowingly overcharging the Defense Department and allegedly making false statements to cover up that scheme.
- Broadband Connectivity: 20 senators wrote to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge, and acting Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jennifer Rosenworcel requesting that the USDA and HUD work with the FCC to improve broadband connectivity. The senators noted that the pandemic had made it clear that affordable and reliable broadband is critical to accessing education, health care, and other essential services.
- Cyber Vulnerabilities from Telework: The House Oversight and Reform Committee wrote to 10 inspectors general, asking them to conduct an assessment of any cyber vulnerabilities created or exacerbated by their respective agencies’ use of telework systems during the pandemic, and whether those vulnerabilities have been mitigated.