Swine flu hearings set; OPM issues guidance

Senate and House panels scheduled three emergency hearings this week on the public health response to the swine influenza outbreak, and the Office of Personnel Management advised federal employees on how to avoid the disease.

On April 27, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) called for additional funding in the upcoming supplemental war spending bill to pay for activities such as stockpiling medications and improving surveillance and lab capacity.

“The spending bill currently traveling through Congress should again ensure the Centers for Disease Control [and Prevention] has the resources it needs,” Harkin said.

Several Democrats have criticized Republican lawmakers for killing a provision in the economic stimulus law in February that would have provided $870 million for pandemic flu preparedness. However, it was unclear whether the Obama administration requested those funds.

The Senate Appropriations Committee's Labor, Health and Human Services Subcommittee, chaired by Harkin, was scheduled to hear today from Anne Schuchat, interim deputy director of the science and public health program at CDC.

On April 29, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was scheduled to testify on swine flu preparedness before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. On April 30, the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Health Subcommittee is slated to discuss the federal response to the swine flu outbreak.

Meanwhile, OPM Director John Berry distributed a memorandum on April 26 offering guidance on avoiding the disease, which included wearing protective masks and maintaining a safe distance from anyone who is apparently infected with swine flu.

The Telework Exchange, a public/private advocacy organization, urged more telework preparations so agencies could maintain continuity of operations during a pandemic.

Although 60 percent of agencies are planning for telework, only about 8 percent are regularly using it, the group said.

“In order to be 100 percent effective, telework must be incorporated into organizations’ standard operating procedure and tested often," the group said in a statement. "Without preventative measures in place, operations will grind to a screeching halt."

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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