05.06.20

Van Hollen, Colleagues Urge Trump to Immediately Use DPA to Manufacture PPE, COVID-19 Testing Supplies

. . . . Current measures are “totally inadequate to meeting the challenge we face”

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) led eight of his Senate colleagues in a letter to President Donald J. Trump urging him to expand his use of Title III of the Defense Production Act (DPA) to dramatically increase domestic production capacity for personal protective equipment (PPE) and COVID-19 testing supplies. In Maryland, the state is still lacking over 2 million requested surgical masks, over 1.8 million requested N-95 masks, and over 52,000 requested swabs.  

“An analysis by Harvard University researchers found that the United States must, at minimum and under the best-case scenario, double the number of tests being conducted each week. Nationwide shortages continue to prevent the United States from conducting enough tests to safely reopen,” the Senators write.

They press on the need for federal action, noting that “even when state and local governments are able to get some supplies into the hands of their frontline medical personnel, they go unused because of shortages in other key supplies. In Maryland, for example, the state has secured a large number of testing kits, but the kits cannot be used without the necessary swabs and viral transport media—both of which have been in short supply.”

While Congress appropriated over $57 billion to purchase supplies and expand testing, widespread shortages continue. The Senators state, “despite unprecedented global demand, private sector companies have been reticent to expand production capacity without support and direction from the federal government. For that reason, it is imperative that the federal government fully use its authority to support and expand production of PPE and testing supplies.”

The Senators note that President Trump has invoked DPA’s Title III only twice so far and write, “These measures are totally inadequate to meeting the challenge we face. This crisis requires faster, more coordinated action to limit loss of life in the near term and over the next year. We urge you to act immediately to expand production and deliveries of PPE and testing supplies using Title III of the Defense Production Act and any other appropriate authority.”

Joining Van Hollen on the letter are Senators Angus King (I-Maine), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), and Jack Reed (D-R.I.).

The full text of the letter is available here and below.

 

Dear President Trump:

We write in response to the release of your administration’s blueprint for State testing plans and rapid response programs to urge you to broaden your use of Title III of the Defense Production Act (DPA) and other appropriate authorities to expand domestic production capacity for personal protective equipment (PPE) and COVID-19 testing supplies.

On April 27, you announced that your administration had “successfully scaled a robust testing regime that is able to meet the massive needs of a nationwide pandemic.” On the same day, an analysis by Harvard University researchers found that the United States must, at minimum and under the best-case scenario, double the number of tests being conducted each week. Nationwide shortages continue to prevent the United States from conducting enough tests to safely reopen.

In many cases, even when state and local governments are able to get some supplies into the hands of their frontline medical personnel, they go unused because of shortages in other key supplies. In Maryland, for example, the state has secured a large number of testing kits, but the kits cannot be used without the necessary swabs and viral transport media—both of which have been in short supply.

Similarly, the nation continues to face critical shortages of PPE. This has led to dangerous rationing and efforts by medical providers to disinfect, reuse, or fashion their own equipment. Reports from across the country paint a bleak picture: staff at the Henry Ford Health System in Michigan made their own face shields using plastic sheets, elastic bands, and tongue depressors. Providence Health in Washington did the same using supplies from Home Depot. Elsewhere, medical staff are soliciting donations of homemade cloth masks and constructing makeshift decontamination systems to reuse their PPE.

Before any state in the country can reopen responsibly, PPE and testing needs must be met. Congress appropriated $57.6 billion to address critical needs such as these, including $16 billion to purchase medical supplies for distribution through the Strategic National Stockpile and at least $11 billion to support efforts to expand testing by states, localities, and tribes. But it is clear that these widespread shortages will not be fully resolved until the nation’s production capacity can be dramatically scaled up, and despite unprecedented global demand, private sector companies have been reticent to expand production capacity without support and direction from the federal government. For that reason, it is imperative that the federal government fully use its authority to support and expand production of PPE and testing supplies.

Section 301 and 302 of Title III authorize you to issue loan guarantees and direct loans to reduce current or projected shortfalls of industrial resources, critical technology items, or essential materials needed for national defense purposes. Section 303 grants you a range of authorities to create, maintain, protect, expand, or restore domestic industrial base capacity. These include purchasing or making purchase commitments of industrial resources or critical technology items, making subsidy payments for domestically produced materials, and installing and purchasing equipment for government and privately owned industrial facilities to expand their production capacity. In short, these authorities allow you to provide a company the financing and equipment they need to expand their production capacity and guarantee a buyer for their products once that capacity comes online.

As part of the CARES Act, Congress appropriated $1 billion for the primary purpose of expanding domestic production of medical supplies to respond to COVID-19. We appreciated your executive order on March 27, 2020 to delegate authority to the Secretaries of Health and Human Services and Homeland Security, allowing each to make use of DPA Title III to expand production capacity. However, to date, Title III has been used just twice as part of the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. On April 11, 2020, the Department of Defense announced that it would use Title III to secure a $133 million investment resulting in the production of 39 million additional N95 masks. On April 29, DOD announced a Title III award to expand the production of swabs by Puritan Medical Supplies in Maine.

These measures are totally inadequate to meeting the challenge we face. This crisis requires faster, more coordinated action to limit loss of life in the near term and over the next year. We urge you to act immediately to expand production and deliveries of PPE and testing supplies using Title III of the Defense Production Act and any other appropriate authority.

Sincerely

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