Lesser-known federal agency creating COVID-related religious exemptions database

by mcardinal

Willie R. Tubbs, FISM News


A federal agency tasked with advising federal courts on how to proceed on bond issuances has landed in the news for its novel attempt to fully comply with President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate.

The Pretrial Services Agency, whose mission in part is “gathering information about newly arrested defendants and preparing the recommendations considered by the Court in deciding release options,” filed public notice this week that it was creating a database in which it will track all employees who request a religious exemption from vaccination.

According to the filing, “Employee Religious Exemption Request Information System” will begin operation on Feb. 10. 

As first reported by the Daily Signal, this marks the first time that a federal agency has created a database to track vaccine status.

It does not seem that this is the start of a massive federal effort to track religious and vaccination status.

More accurately, the Pretrial Services Agency is attempting to maintain documentation of its own employees who have requested or received an exemption. It is unclear why this information requires a database, but there is no evidence this information will be shared with the rest of the federal government.

Such a database could, however, be the subject of a Freedom of Information Act request. Any citizen could, for example, request a list of the agency’s employees whose names appear in the database. The agency could, on several grounds, argue against providing such information, but the existence of any government record makes it subject to public scrutiny.

In August, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeffrey Zeintz told reporters such information would not be collected en masse in Washington.

“There will be no federal vaccination database,” Zeintz said during a press briefing. “As with all other vaccines, the information gets held at the state and local level.  But any system that is developed, in the private sector or elsewhere, must meet key standards, including affordability, being available both digitally and on paper, and, importantly, protecting people’s privacy and security.”

The only COVID-related data maintained by the federal government is anonymized, meaning personally identifiable information is not included, and given to the White House and connected agencies, states, municipalities, and the healthcare industry.

“(We) work to get the best data that are possible from those local jurisdictions and compile the immunization data from many different places — from pharmacies, from healthcare providers, from large database, large electronic health records — and do so from all different states and jurisdictions,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in December. “We work closely with those states and jurisdictions to update and provide us the best possible data that they can.  And then we compile it to give you, the American people, the best reporting that we can.”