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.
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our bi-weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.
- Wed., Oct. 20: The Senate Committee on Finance held a hearing on health insurance coverage with a focus on the current and future role of federal programs, including in the context of the pandemic.
- Tues., Oct. 26: The House Education and Labor Committee will hold a hearing about vaccine requirements and employee accommodations.
- Wed., Oct. 27: The House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs will hold a hearing about the U.S. response to the global pandemic.
- Wed., Oct. 27: The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis will hold a hearing about how the meatpacking industry failed workers during the pandemic.
The State of the Pandemic
Last week, following the Food and Drug Administration’s authorization of booster shots produced by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that people over 65, at high risk, or with jobs that regularly expose them to the virus receive a booster. Also eligible are adults who received the single-dose J&J vaccine more than two months ago. The CDC endorsed the “mix and match” approach, which allows people to choose any of the three authorized boosters (including the Pfizer-BioNTech) regardless of their initial vaccination.
According to data from the CDC, more Americans are now receiving boosters than first-dose vaccinations. More than 11 million people have received a booster, but more than 65 million remain unvaccinated. Vaccines for children between 5 and 11 could be available by the first half of November, Anthony Fauci said in an interview Sunday. And on Monday, Moderna announced that its research had shown its vaccine to be effective for children ages 6 to 11; an FDA advisory panel plans to review data for the Pfizer vaccine for children on Tuesday.
Covid-19 cases nationwide have been on the decline in the past two weeks, but deaths have remained relatively stagnant and some cold-weather northern states have seen case numbers rise in recent days.
In the States
- Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that he plans to call a special legislative session in November to fight vaccine mandates imposed by businesses in the state. DeSantis also said he plans to offer $5,000 bonuses to law enforcement officers who relocate to Florida after having refused to comply with vaccine requirements.
- Legislation aiming to block employee vaccine mandates in Texas failed to pass before the end of the state’s legislative session. Many business groups had spoken out against the proposals. The bill had been advocated for by Gov. Greg Abbott, whose executive order banning vaccine mandates for all employers in the state is still in effect.
Other recent headlines:
- Vaccinated travelers from abroad can enter U.S. on Nov. 8 (New York Times)
- School attendance falls for homeless students in NYC, in part because of the pandemic (New York Times)
Farmers to Families Food Box Program Oversight
The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis released a report on its investigation into the Trump administration’s mismanagement of a Department of Agriculture food box program aimed at assisting vulnerable Americans during the pandemic. The subcommittee found that the administration granted multimillion-dollar contracts to unqualified recipients, failed to adequately monitor for fraud, and abused the program for political gain.
In its report, the subcommittee cited documents obtained by American Oversight that point to those political motivations. The subcommittee also sent a letter to the USDA inspector general, asking the office to conduct a review of the program to identify possible fraud and reclaim wasted taxpayer funds.
Pfizer’s Contracts with Governments
Public Citizen published a report on Pfizer’s Covid vaccine negotiations with various governments around the world, saying the pharmaceutical company used its power to “silence governments, throttle supply, shift risk and maximize profits.” Public Citizen reviewed unredacted Pfizer contracts with the United States, United Kingdom, Brazil, and other countries, and found that the company required governments to maintain secrecy surrounding the contracts, controlled decisions about donations of vaccines, and shifted responsibility for any intellectual property infringement to governments.
Education Department’s Unmonitored Funds
A recent ProPublica analysis found that the Department of Education’s insufficient tracking of billions of dollars in pandemic relief for schools has hampered officials’ ability to understand whether the aid has been effective in helping students. ProPublica examined more than 16,000 funding reports from March to September 2020, comprising $3 billion of the $190 billion in aid that the department authorized. Funds were classified into categories such as technology or sanitization, but more than half of the $3 billion was listed as “other,” with no further details as to how the money was spent. Monitoring the distribution of funds has largely been left to states.
- The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on its investigation into the Indian Health Service’s coronavirus-related contracts. The report found that IHS was able to acquire medical supplies from a variety of vendors in response to the pandemic, but contracting officers failed to notice when some supplies were delivered late.
- The Department of the Interior’s inspector general assessed several pandemic-related contracts from March to October 2020, including 80 “high-risk” contract actions (contracts with first-time contractors or with those operating outside their normal scope of business). The inspector general determined that eight of the 80 contract actions, totaling $775,102, were not fulfilled. They also found that the department did not follow coding guidance, which resulted in $10.5 million in contract actions not being properly recorded.
- The GAO published a report about the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the aviation industry. The report examined the actions taken by businesses as well as the Federal Aviation Administration’s granting of temporary relief from some regulatory requirements.
- The Department of Defense’s inspector general released an update on its ongoing and completed Covid-19 oversight projects, most of which assessed the agency’s response to the pandemic, the use of relief funds, and fraud detection.
- The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee assessed 51,000 pandemic assistance awards worth a total of $347 billion and found that more than 15,400 awards worth $33 billion had “meaningless” descriptions that made it difficult to know how the relief money was spent.
- The GAO examined the Federal Reserve’s oversight of CARES Act lending programs and their effects on corporate credit markets, states, municipalities, and small businesses. The report noted that while the Fed’s lending facilities helped improve access to credit and liquidity in corporate and municipal credit markets, those markets remained vulnerable because of the pandemic’s extended duration.
- A group of House and Senate Democrats sent a letter asking the White House’s chief science officer for Covid-19 and the director of HHS’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to provide information on the Biden administration’s efforts to accelerate global vaccine production and distribution.
- Senate Democrats wrote to U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai asking that Tai’s office end tariff exemptions on imports of personal protective equipment from China.
- Sen. Dick Durbin sent a letter to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra and acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock asking that their agencies help expand rapid at-home Covid-19 testing. Durbin noted that despite the dramatic expansion of vaccinations, testing infrastructure remains under-developed.
- Sen. Elizabeth Warren sent a letter to Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell asking him to release any warnings sent by the Fed ethics office in early 2020 telling officials to “avoid unnecessary trading for a few months as the Fed dived deeper into markets.” The Fed last week announced stricter ethics rules for officials, following the fallout from revelations about two top officials’ extensive stock trading during a time when the bank was taking extraordinary actions to protect the economy.
- Sens. Alex Padilla and Dianne Feinstein sent a letter to Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Charles Rettig asking the IRS to provide guidance clarifying that utility assistance payments from the American Rescue Plan Act would not be subject to federal income taxes, especially considering recipients are likely still recovering from the economic impact of the pandemic.
- Several senators wrote a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack expressing concern about delays in financial assistance for the biofuel industry and asking that USDA implement the assistance outlined in its Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative.