FEMA and HHS will coordinate deliveries.
The Trump administration will begin an interagency effort this week to distribute personal protective equipment for federal employees, making deliveries to agencies providing mission-critical work to support public facing missions during the novel coronavirus outbreak.
The deliveries are being coordinated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Health and Human Services Department. They will go to the Veterans Affairs Department, Homeland Security Department and others, a FEMA spokesperson said. The shipments will include N95 masks—which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified as the most effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19—gloves, and other equipment “specific to an agency’s needs and missions.”
“FEMA and HHS are providing face coverings to federal departments and agencies with mission essential functions to promote health and safety in the workplace and in their execution of public-facing missions,” the spokesperson said. “FEMA has interagency agreements with multiple agencies.”
The two agencies will “continue to coordinate closely to manage the national needs for PPE,” the spokesperson added, noting FEMA is ensuring HHS’ “stocks and deliveries can be met.” FEMA began taking orders on agency requirements last week and will begin making deliveries this week.
While FEMA identified only VA and DHS specifically for its deliveries, a State Department official said the department has told its bureaus to “stand down” in their searches for PPE in anticipation of an HHS shipment. A department spokesperson confirmed the HHS shipment, saying State would distribute cloth face coverings to all of its facilities around the world via diplomatic “pouch” or mail deliveries. The face coverings are available for all direct hire employees, contractors, locally employed staff overseas, eligible family members, household members overseas and personnel from other agencies overseas. The spokesperson added that bureaus and posts may still procure additional masks for personnel and visitors.
A draft communication obtained by Government Executive to be sent by State to all embassies said the face coverings were manufactured by Hanes and could be washed up to 15 times before discarding.
Agencies across government, like organizations around the country, have struggled to procure sufficient protective equipment for their employees. At VA in particular, employees have sounded the alarm about shortfalls of masks and other equipment. At some facilities, VA employees were provided with one surgical mask per week and N95s were nearly impossible to find. That left employees in a particularly difficult position after they were subsequently instructed to continue working even after they were exposed to the coronavirus. The Washington Post previously reported that FEMA diverted 5 million masks that VA had ordered away from the department. More than 1,600 VA employees have tested positive for COVID-19.
The IRS last week recalled 10,000 employees, initially telling the workers they would have to bring their own masks. The agency subsequently said it had enough masks to provide one to all recalled employees who did not bring their own.