3/24/2020 — 

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 President Trump’s failure to fully utilize the law is indefensible and could lead to a shortage of life-saving supplies such as ventilators, respirators, and personal protective gear. 

Senator Reed is urging the Trump Administration to establish a DPA team and central coordination office to fully use the powerful authorities under the law. 

And after the New York Times reported the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has lobbied the Trump Administration against using the DPA, Senator Reed notes the hypocrisy of the Trump Administration declaring the DPA to be tantamount to ‘nationalizing business’ and ‘socialism’ while simultaneously seeking a $500 billion corporate bailout slush fund and refusing to rule out taxpayer subsidies to rescue the president’s struggling hotels.

Reed stated: “President Trump’s failure to utilize the DPA is symptomatic of a disorganized White House.  Even at this late date, there is still not a structure or process in place to effectively marshal our federal resources to address the myriad of pressing COVID-19 challenges.  We have the skills and resources within the federal agencies to work with our industry partners to manufacture and distribute in-demand gear and equipment.  The President should ensure DOD’s expertise and systems are being utilized and coordinated with other agencies to address our current shortfalls in a legal, effective, and rapid manner.  The government professionals on the frontlines, who this President mocks as being the ‘deep state,’ are working their hardest, but the lack of Presidential leadership and direction is hampering their best efforts.  It is clear that the President should have acted sooner, but American lives could be saved if these authorities are utilized swiftly.”

The Defense Production Act was put in place to allow the federal government to mandate the mass-production of vital goods during national emergencies.  Senator Reed notes it should only be invoked in true national emergencies, like the one we are currently facing. 

“Fully invoking the Defense Production Act doesn’t nationalize companies, but it does allow the federal government to partner with the private sector to optimize the procurement and distribution process to ensure that life-saving equipment is efficiently directed to cities and states most in need,” said Senator Reed.  “Instead of using the law for its intended purpose, President Trump is manufacturing excuses for failing to mobilize the government to use the DPA.”

Several Republican lawmakers have recognized President Trump’s failure to lead on this matter and are imploring the Trump Administration to take corrective action. 

Today, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced it would, for the first time, insert some DPA language into a new contract to access 60,000 coronavirus testing kits and secure millions of masks.  Senator Reed says that is a small step forward, but only represents a tiny fraction of what the Trump Administration could and should be doing to urgently help states prioritize the safety of millions of Americans.

“The American people are sacrificing and doing their part to buy us more time, but President Trump isn’t seizing the opportunity.  In order to combat coronavirus, we must proactively scale up and coordinate our response capabilities.  Every day is critical, and if we prepare now, we can be ready for the next wave.  This situation is unpredictable, but we know it is not a question of if, but when the next outbreak will come,” noted Reed.  “We as a society are more than capable of taking on this virus and beating it.  But we need a well-organized and resourced plan in place.  I implore President Trump to set ideology aside and do the right thing now.  This isn’t about a government takeover of companies, or socializing the economy, it is about effectively leading, organizing, and marshaling scarce resources in an emergency.”

On March 20, after President Trump disparaged the DPA and compared it to nationalizing businesses, Senator Reed and 19 colleagues sent a letter to the President urging the Trump Administration to immediately implement all Defense Production Act powers under Titles I, III, and VII as necessary to massively scale up production of testing kits, Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) such as respirators and gloves, ventilators, and other critical materials that our country needs during the coronavirus emergency.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) estimates the United States could need up to 3.5 billion N95 respirator masks during the coronavirus emergency, but the Strategic National Stockpile holds only 42 million. Congress amended DPA in 2009 to explicitly extend those authorities to support domestic preparedness and response to national emergencies, such as the coronavirus pandemic. 

“Our domestic industries are ready and waiting for the call to respond to the critical ongoing shortages of key medical equipment and supplies,” wrote the senators in their letter to President Trump. “But they need capital, federal contracts, and other assurances in order to act. We can activate America’s ingenuity and resolve by immediately providing that financial incentive and direction through the full use of DPA authorities. We urge you to move forward in using these authorities immediately, for the sake of the health and well-being of the American people.”

The president’s executive order issued last week invokes only components of Title I of the DPA and delegates its authorities to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar.  In their letter, the Senators explain that implementing Title III authorities would allow the executive branch to provide financial incentives to industry, including loans, direct purchases, and purchase commitments, as well as to further help repurpose private manufacturing capabilities to enable manufacturers to produce the materials we need in this crisis, something other countries like South Korea and France are doing.  The Senators also highlight that Title VII empowers the President to establish voluntary agreements with private industry and direct coordinated industry efforts and production.

In their letter, the senators also urged President Trump to follow the advice of his own public health officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and HHS and stop referring to the current coronavirus in an inflammatory and xenophobic manner.

In addition to Reed, the letter was also signed by U.S. Senators Edward Markey (D-MA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tom Udall (D-NM), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Angus King (I-ME), Doug Jones (D-AL), Tom Carper (D-DE), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Mark Warner (D-VA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Tina Smith (D-MN).

Text of the letter follows:

March 20, 2020

President Donald J. Trump
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Trump,

We welcomed your March 18, 2020 Executive Order invoking the Defense Production Act (DPA) to respond to the ongoing health and economic crisis caused by the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Although the executive order invokes Title I of the DPA and delegates its authorities to Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, it fails to direct the full use of Title I authorities, and wholly ignores Titles III and VII, which could provide essential additional tools for rapidly scaling up our national response.  We urge you to immediately invoke utilize these additional authorities, which will commence the type of wartime manufacturing mobilization needed to combat this crisis.

We also are extremely troubled by a tweet you sent yesterday after invoking the DPA, which stated: “I only signed the Defense Production Act to combat the Chinese Virus should we need to invoke it in a worst case scenario in the future. Hopefully there will be no need, but we are all in this together!” First, we urge you to immediately implement all DPA powers under Titles I, III, and VII to massively scale up production of testing kits, Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) such as respirators and gloves, ventilators, and other critical materials that our country needs in order to avoid a worst-case scenario. Second, we urge you to follow the advice of your own public health officials such as Robert Redfield, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Secretary Azar, and stop referring to COVID-19 in an inflammatory and xenophobic manner.

We also request that you deploy Title III authorities, which would allow the executive branch to provide financial incentives to industry — including loans, direct purchases, and purchase commitments — to rapidly scale up the manufacturing of medical supplies and equipment needed to respond to the crisis. This infusion of capital and financial assurances could help support developing or conducting COVID-19 tests. It could also aid companies or institutions in expanding their capacity to   needed testing materials, PPE, medical equipment, and medical supplies. Under Title III, the federal government can further help repurpose private manufacturing capabilities to enable manufacturers to produce the materials we need in this crisis — something other countries are already doing. We encourage you to deploy these Title III authorities.

Finally, Title VII empowers you to establish voluntary agreements with private industry and direct coordinated industry efforts and production. These authorities help protect against anti-trust violations and ensure that we have a coordinated industry response to this rapidly evolving crisis. We urge you to consider using these authorities as necessary, as well.

Our domestic industries are ready and waiting for the call to respond to the critical ongoing shortages of key medical equipment and supplies. But they need capital, federal contracts, and other assurances in order to act. We can activate America’s ingenuity and resolve by immediately providing that financial incentive and direction through the full use of DPA authorities. We urge you to move forward in using these authorities immediately, for the sake of the health and well-being of the American people.

Thank you for your consideration of this request.

Sincerely,