March 20, 2020

Udall, Senators Again Call on Trump to Immediately and Fully Use All Defense Production Act Authorities to Mobilize War-Scale Manufacturing Effort of Respirators, Ventilators, Test Kits, Other Medical Equipment

President has only invoked part of one title in Act, and refused to deploy Act’s full powers to incentivize industry, retool private manufacturing capabilities

Senators also urge Trump to stop xenophobic references to COVID-19

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) joined Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) along with 17 of their colleagues in condemning President Trump’s partial invocation of the Defense Production Act (DPA), which ignored other key titles in the Act that provide essential tools for rapidly scaling up our national response to the spread of the novel coronavirus. The Senators are calling on President Trump to immediately implement all Defense Production Act 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 during the coronavirus emergency. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) estimates the United States could need up to 3.5 billion respirators during the coronavirus emergency, but the Strategic National Stockpile holds only 12 million respirators. 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 days ago 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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services and stop referring to the current coronavirus in an inflammatory and xenophobic manner.

In addition to Udall, Markey, and Brown the letter is also signed by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Angus King (I-Maine), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Bob Casey (D-Penn.), and Tina Smith (D-Minn.)  

A copy of the letter can be found HERE and below.

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 and 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 manufacture 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,