"There is no way for this country to have enough personal protective equipment...without the federal government stepping up," said one senator.
On Wednesday, Democratic senators called for a vote on a bill that would designate an official to oversee the medical supply chain and increase public reporting on the procurement process during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., led their Democratic colleagues in calling for unanimous consent to expedite consideration of the "Medical Supply Transparency and Delivery Act," which they announced with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., in April and then introduced in May. During the initial onset of the virus the administration was slow to fully invoke the 1950 Defense Production Act to obtain much-needed medical supplies and equipment. Now, six months into the pandemic, there have been recent spikes in cases around the country and some health care facilities are once again running low on resources, as The Washington Post reported earlier this month.
“What we have known from the very beginning is that there is no way for this country to have enough personal protective equipment...without the federal government stepping up and utilizing the Defense Production Act,” said Murphy on the Senate floor on Wednesday. “Why won’t this administration take control of the supply chain? Why are they willing to let people die? States can’t run the supply chain by themselves.”
If the bill is enacted, the Defense secretary, in consultation with the Federal Emergency Management Agency director, would be required to appoint a civilian official to be the executive officer to oversee coronavirus acquisition logistics and advise the president on “utilizing the full authorities available” under the Defense Production Act. The Defense secretary could also authorize other uniformed and Defense civilian personnel to support the work.
The executive officer would have all federal acquisition authorities under the Defense Production Act and report to the FEMA director as well as work with the Homeland Security, Defense, Commerce, and Health and Human Services departments. He or she would be required to “publicly post all states’ requests for assistance, metrics and criteria for amount and destination of distribution, metrics for determining hotspots and areas of future concern, and production and procurement benchmarks,” according to the bill’s text.
The executive officer, with officials at other agencies, would also publish weekly reports on equipment needs, manufacturers and industry sectors that could fill orders and stockpiles that can be redistributed to new coronavirus hotspots. The position would be terminated 30 days after the official certifies to Congress that all states and territories’ needs are met and all federal stockpiles are replenished.
The legislation would also require the comptroller general of the United States to review the government’s response to the pandemic and make recommendations on how to better prepare for a future pandemic. It would also require the inspectors general council to designate an IG to oversee the implementation of the act.
“There’s been time to review. There’s been time to study,” said Baldwin on the Senate floor. “But it is past time to pass [the act].”
Forty-six Senate Democrats along with the AFL-CIO; Service Employees International Union; National Nurses United; American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; and several large advocacy groups support this legislation. Reps. Katie Porter, D-Calif.; Jason Crow, D-Colo.; Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich.; and Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, introduced a House companion bill in May. It was also included in the House’s coronavirus relief package, the HEROES Act, which passed in May.
Meanwhile, White House Trade Adviser Peter Navarro has defended the Trump administration's approach to the supply chain, overseen by Rear Adm. John Polowczyk, CNN reported last week. "We have not hesitated to use the Defense Production Act when necessary," Navarro said. "One of the beauties of using the Defense Production Act when necessary is that it has reduced the need to actually have to invoke it because we get voluntary contribution."