Updated May 20, 2020 - Politics & Policy

DHS watchdog launches probe into how FEMA is handling coronavirus

Technicians prepare to run a test of one of the Battelle decontamination systems delivered to Colorado by FEMA and HHS on May 8 in Brighton, Colorado. Photo: Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

The Department of Homeland Security's watchdog has launched a new investigation into how FEMA coordinated with federal agencies to prepare for — and respond to — the coronavirus pandemic.

Why it matters: FEMA is leading federal operations in response to the outbreak and is tasked with distributing vital medical supplies and protective equipment across the U.S.

  • Yes, but: When procuring supplies, inexperienced volunteers recruited by Jared Kushner were reportedly tasked with choosing where the equipment should go, per the New York Times.

What they're saying: “The COVID-19 Supply Chain Task Force vetted hundreds of leads for PPE that were passed along to FEMA and HHS. While the volunteers played an important role, they were not FEMA employees," a FEMA spokesperson told Axios.

  • The agency said it could not yet respond to the IG's ongoing investigation, as it is not finished.
  • FEMA is enabled to "closely coordinate with our federal and non-governmental partners to support state, territorial, local and tribal governments" in response to the pandemic, the spokesperson said.

Flashback: Top vaccine doctor Rick Bright alleged in his whistleblower report that FEMA and the Department of Health and Human Services were "passing the buck back and forth" on who should buy more needles and syringes, in response to a shortage.

Of note: The DHS watchdog has also opened a new probe into how Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Patrol are managing the coronavirus among detainees and staff at their facilities.

Go deeper: FEMA has been another coronavirus lifeline for health care providers

Editor's note: This story has been updated with FEMA's response.

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Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios. This graphic includes "probable deaths" that New York City began reporting on April 14.

Health experts fear that the protests breaking out across the U.S. could contribute to the spread of the coronavirus.

The state of play: Being outside may limit the danger, but close quarters, yelling, and potential exposure to tear gas, which causes coughing and crying, increase the risk of spread. It's recommended that those who are protesting be tested for the coronavirus.

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Fauci: "My meetings with the president have been dramatically decreased"

Anthony Fauci with President Trump on May 15. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview with Stat News that his meetings with President Trump about the coronavirus have "dramatically decreased."

The big picture: Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease doctor and a key member of the White House's coronavirus task force, said he "was meeting with [the president] four times a week back, a month or so ago."

Increased armed presence planned for D.C. tonight

Demonstrators stand around a fire during a protest near the White House in response to the killing of George Floyd. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Government officials say plans are in place for a significantly heavier armed presence on the streets of Washington, D.C. tonight in response to the increasingly violent protests linked to the death of George Floyd.

What we're hearing: "Tonight you will see increased presence, both police...other agencies, and National Guard presence," a source familiar with the government's plans said.