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Carper, Coons, colleagues press Trump administration medical supply, PPE distribution

Delaware News Desk
Smyrna/Clayton Sun-Times

Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons, both D-Delaware, joined Sens. Gary Peters, D-Michigan, Maggie Hassan, D-New Hampshire; Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut; and Tim Kaine, D-Virginia; their Senate Democratic colleagues in raising serious concerns about the Donald Trump administration’s reliance on private companies to distribute desperately needed medical supplies during the coronavirus pandemic.

Although President Donald Trump has declared a national emergency and mobilized the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help distribute supplies, FEMA is currently relying on private companies to distribute masks, N95 respirators, gowns, gloves and other critical supplies to states, without clear guidance from the federal government on which areas or facilities should be prioritized. This practice raises serious questions about the use of taxpayer dollars, the government authorities delegated to private companies, and if their involvement could result in supplies not being delivered to the areas that need it most.

“While we agree that the existing supply chains and unique capabilities of the commercial market should be used to the greatest extent practicable, the process the task force has decided to use is, at best, opaque and inefficient,” wrote the senators. “We are concerned that the federal government is using taxpayer dollars to bring supplies to the U.S., just to have six private distributors step in and sell those very supplies to desperate states, tribes and health care systems for a profit. In the private market, states, tribes, federal agencies, hospitals and other entities must all compete for the same supplies, where resources are allocated according to existing commercial relationships or the highest bidder instead of greatest need.”

In a letter, the senators expressed concern that, without sufficient oversight, the administration’s strategy for distributing medical supplies is vulnerable to waste, fraud and abuse. Currently, only half of the supplies procured by the federal government are distributed to areas considered to be “hotspots” by medical experts, with the other half left to commercial distributors to deliver wherever they choose. Earlier this month, the Department of Defense transferred more than 5 million desperately needed N95 respirators to FEMA, which then turned them over to private companies for distribution, rather than working with state emergency management offices to coordinate delivery to localities with the greatest need. The Senators raised concerns that private businesses’ commercial interests could lead to allocation according to the highest bidder, rather than on a basis of need.

The senators requested detailed information on how private distributors are allocating medical supplies to coronavirus hotspots through programs like “Project Airbridge,” and how the administration is using its authorities under the Defense Production Act to guide distribution efforts. The senators are also seeking information on the oversight efforts conducted by FEMA — including details on how the federal government is ensuring the delivery of supplies to communities with the greatest need and the administration’s strategy to prevent favoritism or price gouging by private companies.

The full text of the letter is available at bit.ly/2XoFZZo.