Connect with us


The Pandemic Is by No Means Over, but the Lessons Learned Are Just Beginning



Best listening experience is on Chrome, Firefox or Safari. Subscribe to Federal Drive’s daily audio interviews on Apple Podcasts or PodcastOne.

What promises to be a long accounting for the federal response to the pandemic, it’s already underway. One agency that was called to respond early is FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. A recent report from the Homeland Security Office of Inspector General found a mixed bag. The DHS deputy inspector general for audits, Bruce Miller, spoke to the Federal Drive with Tom Temin

Interview transcript: 

Tom Temin: Mr. Miller, good to have you on.

Bruce Miller: Hey, it’s great to be here, Tom. I really appreciate the opportunity.

Tom Temin: And let’s begin with what the agency was called to do early in the pandemic. I mean, you look back to the early parts of 2020, when this all kind of hit the country, correct?

Bruce Miller: That is correct. And before I jump into FEMA’s specific response, let me say that it’s noteworthy to mention that, you know, we purposefully started this audit very, very early on in the pandemic. And FEMA began implementing corrective actions immediately and improving processes and system information issues in real time. And we see real value when we have the opportunity to impact something on the front end. But back to FEMA’s specific response, you know, at the onset, while Health and Human Services was the lead federal agency, FEMA provided significant logistical support, such as interagency coordination, information sharing and coordination through its regional response coordination centers. Then in March 2020, the president issued emergency declarations for all states and territories. And so FEMA took on its Stafford Act responsibilities to prepare for, protect against and respond to the pandemic as it would during other natural disasters. The big difference here, Tom, though FEMA has never had a natural disaster affect all 56 states and territories at the same time, this one certainly did. So it was an absolutely unprecedented challenge for FEMA. And despite some of the challenges we identified, they did ultimately help facilitate the shipment of personal protective equipment and ventilators throughout the country.

Tom Temin: Yes, and you point to something, I think that’s important. And that is they were able to do so in collaboration with a totally different department, HHS, that was the lead on much of this. I mean, often it takes federal agencies two years to do a minor memorandum of understanding.

Bruce Miller: Yeah, that’s correct. And I think FEMA’s experience with the Stafford Act, and having to coordinate with multiple federal agencies through natural disasters really assisted them in helping out with this pandemic.

Tom Temin: And because of the newer materials and the oddball things relative to other disasters that they had to deliver, what did you find with respect to FEMA’s preparation and the kind of support systems they had in place for something like this?

Bruce Miller: Yeah, so FEMA had to fulfill, you know, different requests. You know, we talked about managing and coordination, and to do that they activated the National Response Coordination Center, and their regional response coordination centers, which really helped the federal government identify the stakeholders that needed to be involved. They also established a unified coordination group, and they ensured that all levels of government worked together in unity. As far as specific systems, FEMA used its web emergency operations center system to fulfill resource requests. And this is the system that FEMA uses for natural disasters. States, territories, tribes and other federal agencies can access that system to request federal assistance for resources or personnel support. And again, during most disasters, you know, you’re talking about a small number of users in a geographic area. During the pandemic, it was all states and territories making requests for resources.

Tom Temin: Yeah, and that’s really something that you point out that’s important. And that is, typically FEMA responses are localized, or regionalized, maybe a couple of counties, that type of thing. But this exposed the entire nation, and therefore the supply system for the nation seem to lock up. As we all learned, we’re still living with it in some sense. And so maybe we should give FEMA credit for discovering a flaw in the national distribution system of these types of goods that probably no one anticipated.

Bruce Miller: Yeah, I think that’s a very fair commentary, Tom. And, again, it’s a good thing that they had a system of record that all 56 states and territories, you know, could make requests to begin with. So I would agree,

Tom Temin: And what were some of their challenges in this? What could they have done more sharply, do you think?

Bruce Miller: So, as it relates to the distribution of ventilators, Tom, FEMA developed and communicated, for that matter, a very standardized process for allocating a limited supply of ventilators. So stakeholder confusion, or questions on, you know, did they request the right way, are they going to get what they requested, that actually worked very well. However, they didn’t have a similar process for personal protective equipment, and the volume of requests for masks, gloves, gowns, other gear used to protect frontline workers did expose challenges with the system. It just really wasn’t suitable for clearly identifying different types of resources, such as different sizes, materials for gloves or types of masks initially. However, FEMA found out that issue very early on and was able to correct it very early on during our audit. We did also find some systemic issues with validation processes that would have prevented potential errors or incomplete fields. Specifically, what we really found was missing requesters. So you know, who is making this personal protective equipment request? Missing type of equipment wasn’t always included, and then duplicate supply request entries. And what this really did is it made it difficult for the national and the regional centers to make well informed decisions. And it did contribute to some stakeholder confusion about FEMA’s adjudication and allocation processes.

Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Bruce Miller, deputy inspector general for audits at the Homeland Security Department. So are you saying this is a problem with their information system design that those fields or that data wasn’t collected? Or was it some other problem?

Bruce Miller: So it was a couple of things. It was the validation controls on the front end, for instance, that didn’t prevent duplicate requests. And you know, in a situation like this, if you’ve got duplicate requests, and you have such limited resources, you know, you’re really putting a strain on whether or not you can get the right resources to the right folks. So there were some internal control issues on the front end. The second issue that we really identified is there were just more people accessing this system again, you know, because you have all the states and territories, so they had so many new and returning users, that they just weren’t really terribly familiar with the system. And with the time crunch, it was very difficult to get those users trained very early on. So that definitely created to some of the issues as well.

Tom Temin: And I imagine some of the requesters panicked and maybe sent in the request three times, if we think we need 10,000 gloves, well, let’s get 30,000. Because there’s only 30,000 in the country or something like that.

Bruce Miller: That’s very possible. You know, we didn’t dig into each individual circumstance of those duplicate requests. But in theory, I would say that that’s probably very good.

Tom Temin: And have things pretty much settled down to normal at this point? Is FEMA kind of backed out of this whole process? Because for those supplies and most of the ventilators, it turns out they weren’t actually needed, I think we found out later on. But for all the rest of the supplies, is that kind of normalized at this point?

Bruce Miller: Yeah. So we haven’t done a verification review at this point to follow up on our initial work. But in our communications with FEMA, we believe that to be the case, yes.

Tom Temin: All right. So exposed weaknesses, your study exposed weaknesses when there’s a kind of a mass, sudden high demand widespread event. What were your recommendations for being prepared for the next peak?

Bruce Miller: We ended up making three recommendations in this report. And the first was specifically to the system issues, and that was to develop additional internal controls, and to ensure new users receive formal training. And this will help improve the data reliability in the system moving forward. The second recommendation was to formally document processes and procedures for making informed and consistent resource allocation decisions. This really helps get to that stakeholder confusion. They can completely understand the adjudication decisions. And then finally, with this being an unprecedented event for a pandemic. You know, we recommended FEMA work with health and human services to issue clarifying guidance defining agencies’ roles and responsibilities under Stafford Act declarations specific to pandemic-related response.

Tom Temin: So if you add all those up — internal controls improvement, better training, better documentation and guidance and so forth for the interagency aspect — that’s very different from saying, well, you made a stockpile 10 million masks and 500 million gloves, as opposed to, say, here’s what you need to be resilient the next time this could happen. Is that fair way to characterize it?

Bruce Miller: Yes, Tom. That’s a very fair way.

Tom Temin: And what was FEMA’s reaction so far?

Bruce Miller: So FEMA concurred with all of our recommendations, Tom. Right now they plan to address the data reliability issues. They’re developing a plan to address training gaps. They also plan to analyze and address how staffing requirements were impacted, specific to those new users by the expanded mission set. They’re also, you know, to improve resource allocation processes, FEMA is going to issue updated guidance. Specifically, they’re incorporating COVID-19 lessons learned and best practices and their revised biological incident annex and the pandemic crisis action plan.

Tom Temin: So now the challenge is making sure all of that material is available and current should there — we hope not — but should there be a next time?

Bruce Miller: Absolutely, Tom. Yes, there’ll be very much better prepared in our opinion.

Tom Temin: Bruce Miller is Deputy Inspector General for audits at the Homeland Security Department. Thanks so much for joining me.

Bruce Miller: Hey, thanks, Tom. Really appreciate the opportunity.


Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card Review (2022)



Hotel credit cards are incredibly underrated. Even if you don’t spend much money on them, they can offer huge perks, including elite status and free night certificates. When you combine these two factors, a lot of these cards offer outsized value.

In this post, I wanted to take a closer look at a hotel credit card that I think just about everyone should have, for the anniversary free night certificate if nothing else. This is an especially good time to get the card, as the current welcome bonus is excellent.

IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card Basics For January 2022

The IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card is the premium Chase and IHG co-branded credit card. Even if you don’t plan on putting much spending on the card, this card can be worth having for the anniversary free night certificate, fourth night free on award redemptions, and more.

For those of you not familiar with IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group), the group owns InterContinental, Six Senses, Regent, Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, Hotel Indigo, and more.

Let’s take a closer look at what you need to know about this card.

Welcome Bonus Of 125,000 Points & Free Night

At the moment the IHG Premier Card is offering an excellent two-part welcome bonus, which is earned after spending $3,000 within the first three months:

Receive 125,000 IHG Rewards pointsReceive a free night award valid at a property costing up to 40,000 points

Personally I value IHG points at 0.5 cents each, so the 125,000 points are worth ~$625 to me, while the free night certificate can be worth up to ~$200.

Card Eligibility

The welcome bonus on the IHG Premier Card isn’t available to those who currently have this specific card, or those who have received a new cardmember bonus on this card in the past 24 months. You’re eligible for the IHG Premier Card even if you have the no annual fee IHG® Rewards Club Traveler Credit Card (review).

Furthermore, you’re eligible for the IHG Premier Card even if you have IHG’s previous co-branded credit card. These cards are even great complements to one another.

While you can get multiple cards, note that Chase also typically lets you product change between personal cards, assuming you’ve had a card for at least 12 months. You’ll need to phone up the number on the back of your card to find out more.

Chase’s 5/24 Rule

Chase has what’s known as the 5/24 rule. This means that if you’ve opened five or more new card accounts in the past 24 months you typically won’t be approved for this card. So if you do apply for this card, make sure you’re under that limit. Chase’s other general application restrictions apply.

$89 Annual Fee

The IHG Premier Card has an $89 annual fee. You can add additional cardmembers to your account at no extra cost. As I’ll explain below, the annual fee is well worth it even if you don’t spend money on the card, since you get an anniversary free night certificate.

Earning Points With The IHG Premier Card

The IHG Premier Card offers some bonus categories, though in general this isn’t a card that I would put much spending on, given the relatively low value of IHG Rewards points.

10x Points At IHG Properties

If you have the IHG Premier Card then you can earn a total of 25x IHG Rewards points per dollar spent at IHG properties. However, in reality, not all of those points are coming from the credit card as such. Here’s how this breaks down:

You earn 10x points from IHG for being an IHG Rewards memberYou earn 5x points from IHG with Platinum status, which is a benefit of this cardYou earn 10x points for paying with your IHG Premier CardEarn 10x points for stays at IHG properties

2x Points At Gas Stations, Grocery Stores, And Restaurants

The IHG Premier Card offers 2x points for purchases made at gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurants. Given my fairly low valuation of IHG points, that translates to a return of about one cent per dollar spent.

Personally, I wouldn’t recommend spending money in these categories with this card, since there are much better options out there.

Earn 1x Points On Other Purchases

For categories in which you can’t earn 2-10x points, the card offers one IHG Rewards point per dollar spent. I would highly recommend against spending money on the card at that rate, since you can do better with other cards.

No Foreign Transaction Fees

The IHG Premier Credit Card has no foreign transaction fees, so it’s a good card for purchases abroad. That’s especially true when staying at IHG properties abroad, as well as for dining and commuting outside the United States.

IHG Premier Credit Card Benefits

What truly makes the IHG Premier Card exceptional is the benefits and perks that it offers, which in my opinion more than offset the annual fee on the card.

Anniversary Free Night

Every year on your account anniversary you get a free night certificate, valid at any property costing up to 40,000 points per night. This will be issued shortly after your anniversary and is valid for 12 months. This is in addition to the free night certificate currently being offered as part of the welcome bonus.

This covers a vast majority of IHG properties worldwide, and I’ve consistently gotten outsized value with this. For example, I’ve now three times in a row redeemed it at hotels that would have cost $250+ for one night if paying cash.

I’ve used a free night certificate at the Kimpton EPIC Miami

Fourth Night Free On Award Redemptions

Just for having the IHG Premier Card you get a fourth night free on award redemptions. When you stay four consecutive nights on an award redemption then you only have to redeem points for the first three nights.

This is an awesome perk, since it can be used an unlimited number of times (you can even use it to book multiple rooms at the same hotel). If you usually redeem points for stays in increments of four nights, this is like getting 25% off all your redemptions.

Get a fourth night free on an award at the InterContinental Maldives

IHG Rewards Platinum Status

You receive IHG Rewards Platinum status for as long as you have the card. While IHG isn’t the richest program in terms of elite benefits, this more than does the trick for those who only occasionally stay with IHG.

Among other things, IHG Rewards Platinum members receive:

Complimentary room upgrades, subject to availability50% bonus pointsLate check-out, subject to availabilityPriority check-inComplimentary internetWelcome amenityGet room upgrades as an IHG Rewards Platinum member

Global Entry Or TSA Pre-Check Credit

The IHG Premier Card offers a Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check credit once every four years. Just charge the membership fee of up to $100 to your card, and it will automatically be reimbursed. It doesn’t matter who the fee is being paid for, as long as you charge it to your eligible card.

Chase Offers

One of the great features of Chase cards is access to Chase Offers, which provides savings on purchases with all kinds of retailers. The program wasn’t launched that long ago, but has already saved me a significant amount of money.

Secondary Car Rental Coverage

The IHG Premier Card offers auto rental collision damage waiver coverage. Decline the rental company’s collision insurance and charge the entire rental cost to your card.

Coverage is provided for theft and collision damage for most cars in the United States and abroad. Do note that domestically the coverage is secondary to your personal insurance, though.

Protection With Trip Delays, Lost Luggage, And More

The IHG Premier Card offers a variety of other protection when traveling. Among these features is:

Trip Cancellation & Trip Interruption Insurance — be reimbursed up to $5,000 per trip when your trip is canceled or cut short due to sickness, severe weather, etc.Lost Luggage Reimbursement — be reimbursed up to $3,000 per passenger if you or your immediate family member check or carry on luggage that is damaged or lost by an airlineBaggage Delay Insurance — be reimbursed up to $100 per day for three days for essential purchases when your bag is delayed by over six hours

Make sure you check your cardmember agreement for all of the details, since there are terms & conditions.

Is The IHG Premier Credit Card Worth It?

I think the IHG Premier Card is absolutely worth having. While this isn’t a card I would put much spending on, the card is worth the $89 annual fee for the incredible perks that it offers. The card offers an anniversary free night certificate, a fourth night free on award redemptions, IHG Rewards Platinum status, a Global Entry fee credit, and more.

Everyone in my family has an IHG Card, if for no other reason than that we consistently redeem the free night certificates at hotels that would cost $250+ when paying cash.

IHG isn’t my favorite hotel group, but there are 5,000+ locations, and I inevitably end up staying at IHG hotels several times per year, because the brand often has the best options.

Let’s discuss a few other aspects of the card, though…

Quick Comparison: IHG Premier Vs. IHG Traveler Card

Above I’ve written about the $89 annual fee IHG Premier Card, though there’s also the no annual fee IHG® Rewards Club Traveler Credit Card (review). The Premier Card is absolutely worth the annual fee. Why?

The Premier Card offers an anniversary free night, while the Traveler Card doesn’tThe Premier Card offers IHG Platinum status, while the Traveler Card offers IHG Gold statusThe Premier Card offers a Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check credit, while the Traveler Card doesn’tThe Premier Card offers a huge welcome bonus

Like I said, the single best benefit of the Premier Card is the anniversary free night certificate, and that’s worth way more than its annual year.

Other Options For Earning IHG Points

The IHG Premier Card doesn’t actually offer great points earning rates when you factor in the fairly low per point value of IHG Rewards.

Do keep in mind that IHG is transfer partners with Chase Ultimate Rewards, so you could transfer points at a 1:1 ratio. For example:

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card (review) offers 3x points on dining and travelThe Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (review) offers 3x points on dining, online groceries, and streaming services, and 2x points on travelThe Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card (review) offers 3x points on the first $150,000 spent annually on travel, shipping purchases, internet, cable and phone services, and advertising purchases made with social media sites and search enginesThe Chase Freedom Unlimited® (review), in conjunction with one of the above cards, earns 3x points on dining and drugstores, and 1.5x points on all purchasesThe Chase Freedom FlexSM (review), in conjunction with one of the above cards, earns 3x points on dining and drugstores, and 5x points in rotating quarterly categories

That being said, in general I absolutely wouldn’t recommend transferring Chase points to IHG. As I said, I value IHG points at ~0.5 cents each, while you can instead transfer points at the same ratio to programs like World of Hyatt, where I value the points at ~1.5 cents each (three times as much).

Sometimes it can make sense to buy IHG points when the program has a sale. IHG Rewards sometimes sells points with a 100% bonus, which brings down the cost per purchased points to 0.5 cents each. When you stack that with the fourth night free offered by this card and the Platinum perks you’ll receive, that could be well worth it.

Have The IHG Select Card?

Back in the day, there was the IHG Select Card, which is no longer open to new applicants. If you have that card, then you should absolutely hold onto it and then also apply for this card, as you’re eligible for both. Why? Because you can stack the benefits on both cards:

Both cards offer an anniversary free night certificate, so you could earn two of those each year, and use them for back-to-back staysThe old card offers a 10% refund on redeemed points (up to 100,000 refunded points per year), while the new card offers a fourth night free on award redemptions, and you could stack those benefits; in other words, if you make a four night stay at a hotel costing 70,000 points per night you’d end up paying 210,000 points, and then would get 21,000 points back, for a total cost of 189,000 points, which is over 30% off

Bottom Line

The IHG Premier Card is a card that I highly recommend getting. Not because it makes sense to put a lot of spending on the card long term, but because the anniversary free night certificate can be worth way more than the $89 annual fee.

Add in the IHG Platinum status, fourth night free on award redemptions, Global Entry/TSA Pre-Check credit, and more, and this card is a no-brainer. The card even has a top notch bonus right now, getting cardmembers even more value.

I know some people are opposed to having a lot of credit cards, but often it can make sense to have some cards just for the perks they offer, even if they’re not worth spending much money on. This is one of those cards.

If you want to learn more about the IHG Premier Credit Card or apply, follow this link.

Source Here:

Continue Reading


Commentary: “Hockey Day” Was a Rousing Success



FITCHBURG — Money aside, it’s safe to say Saturday’s “Hockey Day in the Burg” was a success.

That’s not to say the thousands of people who entered the Wallace Civic Center didn’t raise a boatload of money for the Thibeault Family Rehabilitation Trust. They certainly did.

But the smile that was pasted on Jake Thibeault’s face — clearly visible at all times, even with a mask on — was proof that the event was successful. That happiness, the escape it brought even temporarily, was worth more than any amount of money.

Thibeault was greeted by friends, teammates and coaches. In a way, it was akin to a family reunion for the teen.

He was welcomed back to his hometown rink as rock star, posing for photos, chatting with each and every person who came up to say hello. Turn and look at any 10 people and at least one would be wearing one of the “TBOTOUGH” T-shirts that were being sold.

What a boost that must be for Thibeault, who arrived back to his home in Fitchburg Friday for the first time since a hit during a September hockey game left him without sensation from the waist down. Until then, it had been all hospital time in Boston, working hard in rehab to hopefully someday walk again.

If any of that was on Thibeault’s mind throughout Saturday’s three hockey games, you wouldn’t know it. He was back with teammates, embraced by coaches. When I mused that it would be a long day for him, Thibeault smiled and said “yeah, but it’ll be a great day.”

If you haven’t had a chance to talk to Jake Thibeault, here’s a primer on what you pick up on immediately. He’s polite. Thoughtful. Wise beyond his years. Engaging. Determined.

His positivity is contagious. Inspiring. The road ahead of Jake Thibeault is a long one that will be filled with challenges, but it’s one he’s meeting with the mindset of a hockey player: he’s going to grind it out every day and he’s going to win.

“Every day is a new day with ups and downs, but I try to minimize the bad days and just have bad moments,” he told me. His focus is on the good.

Want a glimpse at what kind of young man Jake Thibeault is?

He’s not worried about living a fulfilling life; he knows he’s going to no matter what obstacles are ahead. And his biggest concern? Letting people know how grateful he is for the support he’s received.

“I have so many people that I have to repay and I don’t know how I will,” he said.

Humble. Determined. Full of respect and love for those who have shown the exact same thing to him.

It’s been an incredibly tough few months for the Thibeault family, but Mike and Tracy — Jake’s parents — know they’ve raised a remarkable young man. He didn’t become that way because of a tragic accident on the ice; he’s been that way for a long time.

Whether or not he walks again doesn’t change that one bit. Jake Thibeault off the ice is what he’s always been on the ice to teammates and coaches; a dedicated and determined leader who works hard and is the kind of kid you root for.

And using Saturday’s showing at the Wallace Civic Center as a clear indication, he still has a lot of people rooting for him.

Source Here:

Continue Reading


Large Scale Renovation Plans for Richford Arms Soon to Be Unveiled



A large scale plan to renovate one apartment building in Downtown Erie is close to being unveiled.

The owner of Richford Arms, the apartment building located on State Street, has reportedly planned what they’re calling a “kick off event” for January 24th.

Beacon Communities has already begun the work on the north side of the apartment building.

Plans to renovate Richford Arms set to be unveiled in “Kickoff Event” next week

The project has been priced at 27 million dollars and will include major updates inside and outside of the 100 unit building.

For news delivered right to yousubscribe to JET 24/FOX 66/’s breaking, daily news & severe weather email lists

According to Beacon, the changes will include a two story addition and six new fully-accessible units.

Source Here:

Continue Reading