3/18/2020 — 

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), the Ranking Member of the Armed Services Committee, who publicly urged President Trump to invoke the Defense Production Act (DPA), says he strongly supports the president’s decision to invoke DPA in order to strengthen America’s domestic manufacturing capacity to meet the nation’s urgent pandemic safety equipment needs.  Senator Reed says that a national shortage of medical equipment and health supplies make it critical for the Trump Administration to help ramp up domestic production of life-saving supplies such as ventilators, respirators, and personal protective gear.

Today, President Trump stated: “We will be invoking the Defense Production Act in case we need it.”

The DPA was first passed in 1950 to authorize the president to undertake actions to boost domestic manufacturing of goods in extraordinary circumstances.  It requires businesses to prioritize contracts necessary for national defense, and Congress extended that authority in 2009 to include domestic preparedness and national emergency response efforts.

Senator Reed says President Trump should have already invoked DPA powers, and the U.S. is not as far along as we should be in terms of a whole of government approach to combating coronavirus.

“Instead of preparing and mobilizing for this pandemic, President Trump tried to downplay it.  As a result, America is not as ready as we should be.  In France, factories that once manufactured fancy perfumes are starting to churn out needed hand sanitizer instead.  You can’t do these things overnight.  It takes planning and coordination.  President Trump is finally taking needed steps, but we’ve got to do more,” said Senator Reed.  “Health officials have told the Trump Administration they do not have enough stockpiled medical equipment and the Administration has failed to sufficiently act.  Invoking the DPA is a step in the right direction that will enable the federal government to team up with the private sector to increase the availability of needed health supplies.”

Earlier this week, U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar acknowledged the “unprecedented challenge” the pandemic poses to the U.S. medical system, but declined to disclose how many ventilators the U.S. has on hand, citing “national security” concerns.  Secretary Azar claimed: “We have tremendous supplies. But we want to acquire more,” and said the Administration is tapping the Strategic National Stockpile to help respond to the crisis.

“I would never reveal classified information, but if the U.S. already had enough ventilators to meet demand during this crisis, this White House would not seek to classify that information, they’d be bragging about it.  Instead of saying we have ‘tremendous supplies,’ the Trump Administration should start coordinating with the private sector to ensure America actually has the life-saving supplies we need.  Invoking the DPA is a needed step in the right direction,” said Reed.

Yesterday, Senator Reed and several of his colleagues sent a letter to President Trump urging him to invoke the DPA.

“It is critical that we substantially and immediately bolster domestic testing capacity to identify cases and, accordingly, help slow the spread of COVID-19,” the senators wrote. “In addition to meeting the acute and immediate needs of our health care system, we must also anticipate potential medium to long term needs for ventilators, PPE, test kits, and other goods as the disease spreads in the coming months, including a potential second wave.”

With over 200,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus worldwide and confirmed infections now in all fifty states, American health professionals are sounding the alarm over a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators, diagnostic test kits, and other medical supplies that are needed to fight the public health crisis. The shortages have prompted many medical facilities to ration their items, which in turn is jeopardizing the safety of health workers and hindering the effectiveness of response efforts.

“The federal government must lead in making sure our nation’s industrial capability is harnessed to address this urgent need.  We urge you immediately to invoke DPA authorities to respond to this pandemic and alleviate these stresses on our health care system,” the senators continued.

In addition to Senator Reed, the letter was signed by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tom Carper (D-DE), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Tom Udall (D-NM), Michael Bennett (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Angus King (I-ME), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Gary Peters (D-MI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), and Doug Jones (D-AL).

The full text of the letter follows:

March 17, 2020

President Donald Trump
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Trump:

The Defense Production Act of 1950 (DPA) authorizes the president to strengthen domestic manufacturing capacity and supply in extraordinary circumstances, and to direct the production by private sector firms of critical manufactured goods to meet urgent national security needs.  In 2009, Congress amended DPA to explicitly extend those authorities to support domestic preparedness and response to national emergencies, like the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

There are widespread reports of shortages in personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators, diagnostic test kits, and other medical supplies that require medical professionals to ration existing supplies. The Department of Defense, in collaboration with Governors and appropriate federal agencies, should immediately undertake a national assessment of the supply and anticipated needs for PPE, ventilators, diagnostic test kits, and other needed medical supplies to support the use of its DPA authorities, as well as determining the potential use of the Defense Logistics Agency to support the rapid deployment of needed equipment, including from existing reserves. It is critical that we substantially and immediately bolster domestic testing capacity to identify cases and, accordingly, help slow the spread of COVID-19.   In addition to meeting the acute and immediate needs of our health care system, we must also anticipate potential medium to long-term needs for ventilators, PPE, test kits, and other goods as the disease spreads in the coming months, including a potential second wave.

In each of our states and across the nation, we know how to make things, quickly and efficiently.  But these decisions cannot be left solely to the market or to individual states.  The federal government must lead in making sure our nation’s industrial capability is harnessed to address this urgent need.  We urge you to invoke DPA authorities immediately to respond to this pandemic and alleviate these stresses on our health care system. 

Sincerely,