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COVID-19 Update | Monday, Aug. 17

August 17, 2020


Both the House and the Senate are in recess.


  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Sunday that the House would return to Washington, D.C. later this week to conduct work related to the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). Specifically, the House will vote on Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney’s (D-NY) H.R. 8015, the Delivering for America Act. It is expected that this vote could take place as early as Saturday. The legislation would prohibit USPS from implementing any changes that would affect the operations and level of service in place on January 1, 2020 until the pandemic has ended. A press release on the legislation is here and bill text is here.
    • Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) have also both called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to bring the Senate back from recess.
    • There is also expected to be a USPS-related hearing on Monday, August 24, likely in the House Oversight and Reform Committee that has jurisdiction over the USPS. Both Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and Robert Duncan, the Chairman of the USPS Board of Governors, have been invited to testify.
  • Following last month’s hearing with the CEOs of Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Google, House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee Members indicated that they were unimpressed by what they heard from the CEOs. As a result, Members have sent follow up inquiries to all CEOs requesting additional information on a wide range of topics, including everything from the companies’ business dealings to their content moderation practices. Company-specific questions included:
    • Has Facebook buckled to bias complaints?
    • Can Amazon make sure its COVID-19 gear is safe and legitimate?
    • How are Google’s data practices affecting publishers?
    • How is Apple making money off iPhone location data?
  • A group of more than 100 Democrats, led by Reps. Chuy García (D-IL) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), are urging the Mexican government to ensure that Mexican states are following the country’s new labor law, a condition of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), allowing Mexican workers to organize independent unions and have representation without fear of arrest. The full letter, written to Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, can be found here.


  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued emergency-use authorizations for SalivaDirect, a rapid detection COVID-19 test developed at Yale University that was partly funded by the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA). The test does not require the same specialized equipment used on most existing nasal swab tests, greatly decreasing the cost to the consumer. Depending on the proximity of the lab evaluating the results, results could be also be available within hours of taking the test.
  • The U.S. and Polish governments signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement Saturday which provides the legal framework for additional U.S. troops in Poland. It also provides a mechanism for logistics and infrastructure cost sharing for U.S. forces in Poland.
    • As a reminder, it is expected that the U.S. will redeploy troops from Germany to Poland.
  • President Trump plans to withdraw the nomination of William Perry Pendley to be the Director of the Bureau of Land Management. As a reminder, Pendley’s nomination faced strong opposition from Democrats in the Senate.
  • President Trump issued an Executive Order Friday giving ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, 90 days to divest its U.S. operations. The order also stipulates that ByteDance must delete data from U.S. users immediately after divestment.
  • Last week, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) held a virtual industry day hosted by the TSA’s Innovation Task Force. Agency officials discussed how they are turning to industry to determine how new technologies can create a more “touchless” airport environment and officials also discussed how the agency continues to respond to the pandemic. TSA officials also shared that at least 1,600 employees have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic and 6 have died.
    • Among other things, the task force discussed TSA’s focus on new technologies that would reduce physical interactions between agents and travelers as well as issues related to biometric and enhanced document inspections.
    • As a reminder, TSA has already made changes to its screening practices, including providing agents with gloves, masks, and eye protection and the agency recently announced that it would deploy new acrylic barriers at 37 airports around the country by this fall to further decrease the likelihood of spreading COVID-19.
    • The TSA has also created a “communicable disease response playbook” to keep employees informed about TSA policy changes. The playbook has reportedly been shared with at least 20 other countries and industry partners though it is not readily accessible to the public to date.
  • Interior Department Secretary David Bernhardt indicated on a press call that the Department has approved a proposal to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling. This proposal has been developed since 2017, when Congress mandated in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that the Interior Department must begin auctioning off drilling leases in the refuge. 
    • The Alaskan Congressional delegation, which is comprised of Sens. Dan Sullivan (R) and Lisa Murkowski (R), and Rep. Don Young (R) issued a joint statement praising the decision.
  • Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Acting Administrator Jim Mullen is stepping down at the end of the month, the agency confirmed over the weekend. Mullen was filling in for Administrator Raymond Martinez, who left in October 2019. FMCSA did not indicate who will replace Mullen as the interim head, but Wiley Deck, current Director of Government Affairs, will fill the position of Deputy Administrator, which was Mullen’s formal title.
  • Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai suggested that lawmakers supply the FCC with funds to build out rural broadband as opposed to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). In written responses to the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee following a June hearing on oversight of the FCC, Pai stated that “if the goal is to avoid overbuilding and other duplicative efforts, Congress should allocate funding solely to one agency — the FCC, which has long been primarily responsible for promoting broadband deployment in the United States.”
    • The recommendation comes as lawmakers look to the USDA as a viable option to run broadband subsidy programs. As a reminder, the House provided $990M for the USDA’s ReConnect broadband program in its Fiscal Year 2021 appropriations legislation for the USDA.
  • President Trump’s tariffs on aluminum imports from Canada officially entered into effect yesterday, less than two months after the USMCA took effect.
    • As a reminder, Canada will impose dollar-for-dollar retaliatory duties on approximately $2.7B worth of U.S. products in the coming weeks as part of its response, including washing machines, bicycles, and golf clubs.
  • U.S. and Chinese officials did not meet this past weekend despite a planned six-month review on their phase one trade deal. According to Reuters, both sides have instead indefinitely postponed the compliance review between key U.S. and Chinese officials. 
  • Federal Register Notices:
    • The Department of Defense (DOD), General Services Administration (GSA), and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) requested comments on the extension of information collection 9000-0201 concerning representations and reporting associated with implementation of Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) rule 2019-009, Prohibition on Contracting with Entities Using Certain Telecommunications and Video Surveillance Services or Equipment. All comments must be received by October 16. The notice can be found here.
    • The FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau issued a notice to refresh the record on the proposals and questions raised in the Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (Further Notice) in GN Docket No. 13-111, FCC 17-25, released on March 24, 2017. Comments must be received on or before September 16. The notice can be found here.
    • The International Trade Administration (ITA) announced 10 membership opportunities for appointment as U.S. representatives to the U.S. Section of the U.S.-Mexico Energy Business Council for a term beginning in October 2020 and ending in October 2022. Applications must be received by 5:00pm on September 16. The notice can be found here.
    • The Small Business Administration (SBA) announced a technical amendment to the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs Policy Directive to clarify that successor-in-interest entities are eligible to receive phase III awards. These changes take effect on October 1. SBA is requesting comments on this proposed change to be sent by September 16. The notice can be found here.
    • The Office of Science within the Department of Energy (DOE) issued a notice of an open meeting of the Advanced Scientific Computing Advisory Committee (ASCAC) to be held virtually on September 24 and 25 from 11:00am-3:00pm ET. The notice can be found here.
    • The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a notice of a virtual public meeting of the Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee for September 14 from 8:45am-3:30pm ET. All requests to attend the meeting must be received by September 4. The notice can be found here.
    • The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that the President’s National Infrastructure Advisory Council (NIAC) will hold a virtual meeting on September 17. Registration closes at 5:00pm ET on September 14. The notice can be found here.

Other News

  • Airports Council International (ACI) on Friday called on governments to rely on “robust and consistent testing” rather than “broad brush” quarantine requirements in an effort to get people flying again. ACI World Director General Luis Felipe de Oliveira also stated that “unilateral national measures, especially a quarantine requirement, are damaging to both the industry and passenger confidence,” and called on the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to develop risk-based recommendations that could support “travel bubbles” and shift strategies depending on the status of the country.
  • According to recent reports, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is facing a $9.2B revenue shortfall for 2021 and an additional $3.2B shortfall in dedicated city and state taxes. After spending the entirety of the $4B the MTA received through the CARES Act, the agency is now spending $200M per week. As a reminder, MTA officials and New York lawmakers are pushing for $12B in additional federal relief for the MTA.
    • The MTA’s issues are indicative of the struggles faced by transit systems throughout the U.S. who face increased costs and large declines in ridership due to the pandemic.
  • According to recent FAA data, drone analyst David Benowitz found that there are 1.32M consumer and 385,000 commercial drones in the U.S. He also found that there are around 1.1M drone pilots flying the low skies in those sectors combined. Benowitz further found that while the commercial sector of the drone industry made up only 5% of the market back in 2016, it is now just shy of 25%.
  • Canadian auto manufacturers are urging the Canadian government to step in to resolve an ongoing labor dispute that has caused work stoppages at the Port of Montreal. Workers have been on strike for a week, hurting Canadian automakers trying to move their products out of the port. The strike at Canada’s second-largest port is “severely impacting integrated automotive supply chains in Canada and across North America, threatening the fragile economic recovery of Canadian automotive production,” according to Brian Kingston, President and CEO of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association, in a recent statement.
    • The strike at the Port of Montreal is causing companies to have to reroute certain parts and components of automobiles, which is adding significant costs to production, increasing uncertainty, and undermining Canada’s competitiveness, according to Kingston.
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