White House adviser Jared Kushner listens as President Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on Thursday, April 2.

White House adviser Jared Kushner listens as President Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on Thursday, April 2. Alex Brandon/AP

Trump Administration Draws Fire for New Description of National Stockpile

The changed website language reflects controversial comments by Jared Kushner that downplayed the federal role.

The Trump administration changed a government website that describes the Strategic National Stockpile in a way that appeared to reflect comments by the president’s son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner, who downplayed federal responsibility for managing the critical medical resources at a briefing Thursday evening. 

During the White House briefing, Kushner said, “The notion of the federal stockpile was it's supposed to be our stockpile. It's not supposed to be states’ stockpiles that they then use.” This comes as hospitals nationwide are facing a massive shortage of ventilators, masks and other medical equipment during the novel coronavirus pandemic. Trump has given conflicting reports on the readiness of the national stockpile. The Health and Human Services Department said the website change was part of a broader update, however. 

A GQ Magazine journalist first pointed out on Twitter on Friday morning that the administration changed the language on the HHS website to reflect Kushner’s comments, which received much backlash. Originally, the page said: 

“Strategic National Stockpile is the nation’s largest supply of life-saving pharmaceuticals and medical supplies for use in a public health emergency severe enough to cause local supplies to run out. When state, local, tribal, and territorial responders request federal assistance to support their response efforts, the stockpile ensures that the right medicines and supplies get to those who need them most during an emergency.”

The statement is now shortened and downplays the federal role. 

“The Strategic National Stockpile’s role is to supplement state and local supplies during public health emergencies. Many states have products stockpiled, as well. The supplies, medicines, and devices for life-saving care contained in the stockpile can be used as a short-term stopgap buffer when the immediate supply of adequate amounts of these materials may not be immediately available.”

An HHS spokesperson told Government Executive, “This is language we have been using in responding to inquiries for weeks now.” HHS’s Assistant Secretary for Preparedness “first began working to update the website text a week ago to more clearly explain to state and local agencies and members of the public the role of the [strategic national stockpile].”  

As part of the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic, Kushner is leading an “all-of-private-sector operation” in contrast with Vice President Mike Pence’s  “all-of-government task force,” as Politico reported. Kushner’s group reportedly has been duplicating federal efforts and has “added another layer of confusion” to the federal response, the New York Times reported. Kushner made his first appearance at the White House daily coronavirus briefing on Thursday. 

The national stockpile, originally called the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile upon its creation in 1998, has expanded to include more than drugs, according to another HHS website, as The Washington Post first noted. 

In 2003, it became the Strategic National Stockpile co-managed by HHS and the Homeland Security Departments. It is used “to deliver critical medical resources to the site of a national emergency when local public health resources would likely be or have already been overwhelmed by the magnitude of the medical emergency,” according to the page.