The White House on Monday announced it will review policies put in place by President Donald Trump “that eschewed scientific integrity” – while at the same time coming under fire for health protocols at increasingly packed migrant facilities at the border.
Biden had requested a review in January, asking for recommendations to guide future scientific discoveries, and the White House announced Monday that it will be led by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
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“OSTP’s Scientific Integrity Task Force will be taking a whole-of-government, forward-looking review of science across federal agencies, in part by examining practices that were antithetical to that mission over the last four years – including Trump-era policies that eschewed scientific integrity in favor of politics,” a spokesperson for the office said in a statement.
In a memo, the agency noted that it will review the policies to determine whether they prevent improper political interference, prevent the suppression or distortion of information, support diversity among scientists, and advance equitable delivery of the government’s programs.
It is unclear what specific policies will be reviewed, but President Trump caused controversy for statements that appeared to conflict with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance – including on masks, testing and other precautions.
However, the review announcement comes just as the Biden administration has come under heavy fire for dropping some social distancing measures, and an alleged failure of testing, in regards to migrants coming to the border.
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Customs and Border Protection encountered more than 100,000 migrants in February and those numbers are expected to rise dramatically in the coming months. CBP has more than 5,000 unaccompanied children in custody while the Department of Health and Human Services has more than 11,000.
In response to the crisis, the administration has told migrant facilities they can open to 100% capacity, even while keeping other COVID-prevention measures in place.
Health and Human Services later said in a statement to Fox News that, “based on CDC guidance, [HHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement] has notified facilities they may temporarily reactivate capacity within their full licensed capability up to safe occupancy levels.”
“The same instruction applies to influx facilities up to what ORR [Office of Refugee Resettlement] and the contractor determine to be safe for influx. In both instances, reactivating beds must be done in a way that maintains a safe and healthy environment for [unaccompanied children] and staff,” the statement said.
That controversy has escalated in recent days, as images have been released showing crammed conditions, with children side-by-side, and led to furious criticism from Republicans and others.
“This is inhumane, it is wrong and it is the direct consequence of policy decisions by the Biden administration to stop building the wall, to return to catch-and-release, and to end the stay-in-Mexico policy,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said Friday in a press conference.
Additionally, the administration has come under criticism for not testing children in CBP facilities, although it does test them later on at other facilities.
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“We are not performing testing inside Border Patrol facilities,” an administration official said last week. They are only being tested when they are “transferred” to other intake facilities run by departments like HHS and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the official said.
CBP told Fox News in a statement last week that it “uses a combination of onsite contract medical personnel and referrals to local health systems to provide medical support for persons in custody who require medical attention.”
“CBP personnel conduct initial inspections for symptoms or risk factors associated with COVID-19 and consult with onsite medical personnel, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), or local health systems as appropriate. Onsite medical personnel can provide basic assessment and supportive treatment, but suspected COVID-19 cases are referred to local health systems for appropriate testing, diagnosis and treatment,” a spokesperson said. “These COVID-19 procedures are consistent with long-standing CBP procedures for preventing the spread of communicable diseases.”
But the scenes have shocked experts and Republicans.
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“Any indoor gathering where people are congregating closely without masks represents a risk,” said Marty Makary, a Fox News contributor and professor of public health and management at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. “The pandemic is not over and settings like these threaten the progress made in reducing transmission.”
Rep. Van Taylor, R-Texas, who visited the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas, Texas, said the children there are packed in much closer than the Biden administration’s health guidelines.
“They’re not socially distanced. They’re sleeping head to foot,” Taylor said.
A spokesperson for the CDC told Fox News that facilities run by agencies like the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) are more suitable for children than CBP locations.
“Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities are currently housing increasing numbers of individuals, including children, and this is contributing to increased risk for COVID-19 outbreaks in these congregate settings,” a CDC spokesperson told Fox News. “To reduce the risk of an outbreak, CDC has recommended additional mitigation precautions in these ORR facilities as they increase capacity, including testing, masking, and isolation and quarantine space for individuals with COVID-19.”
In response to an inquiry from Fox News, a White House spokesperson also said “we’ve continued to unearth a variety of solutions to try and mitigate the conditions there” and that the administration is aiming to speed up efforts to reunite children with their families.
Republicans have blamed the migrant surge on President Biden’s rapid reversal of Trump-era border protections. But Biden has in turn blamed Trump for ending parts of the asylum system.
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“He, in fact, shut down the number of beds available,” Biden said at a press conference last week. “He did not fund HHS to get people to get the children out of those Border Patrol facilities, where they should not be and not supposed to be more than a few days. But he dismantled all of that.”
“And so what we’re doing now is attempting to rebuild – rebuild the system that can accommodate what is happening today,” he said.
Fox News’ Tyler Olson and Brittany de Lea contributed to this report.