March 18, 2020

Udall, Heinrich Urge President to Act to Address Shortages of Essential Medical Equipment Needed to Treat and Prevent Spread of COVID-19

Senators urging president to invoke Defense Production Act of 1950 to strengthen domestic manufacturing capacity and supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators, diagnostic test kits and other vital medical supplies

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and 24 of their Senate colleagues urged President Trump to use existing legal authority to help address the widespread reports of shortages of medical supplies, as a result of the COVID-19 emergency. In a letter to President Trump, the senators called on the president to invoke the Defense Production Act of 1950 (DPA), which 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. Congress amended DPA in 2009 to explicitly extend those authorities to support domestic preparedness and response to national emergencies, such as the coronavirus pandemic.

The New Mexico delegation has requested the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) leadership release the state of New Mexico’s full allotment of PPE such as protective gloves and masks, for health care providers responding to the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) emergency.

The senators are pushing the president to use this existing legal authority to help address shortages in personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators, diagnostic test kits and other medical supplies needed to treat and protect healthcare providers on the frontlines of the coronavirus outbreak.

“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 senators wrote. “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.”

The senators continued, “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 addition to Udall and Heinrich, the letter was also signed by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Richard Durbin (D-Il.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Michael Bennett (D-Colo.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Angus King (I-Maine), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and Doug Jones (D-Ala.).

A copy of the letter can be read here and below.

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,