House Dems ask Trump to invoke emergency contracting authority

US Congress House side Shutterstock photo ID: 156615524 By mdgn editorial use only 

Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.) and 56 colleagues urged the White House to use its authority under the Defense Production Act of 1950 to expand and allocate production of critical medical supplies to respond to COVID-19, including ventilators, protective masks and more.

In a March 13 letter, Levin and other House Democrats asked President Donald Trump to extend procurement authorities to obtain needed items. Currently hospitals and health care providers are urging workers to conserve those items.

"We are extremely concerned that such 'strategies' could force frontline health care workers to use protective equipment improperly, or go without it altogether," said the letter.

The Defense Production Act of 1950 authorizes the president to mobilize government contractors to produce goods and services for national security needs. When invoked, contractors are required to put the federal government first in line for delivery of needed items, ahead of commercial companies as well as state and local governments.

Equipment like respirators could fall under the act, which includes critical infrastructure defined as "any systems and assets, whether physical or cyber-based, so vital to the United States that the degradation or destruction of such systems and assets would have a debilitating impact on national security, including, but not limited to, national economic security and national public health or safety."

The Defense Production Act could come into play on existing Veterans Affairs, Defense Health Agency and Health and Human Services contracts for needed equipment. The act does not empower the government to seize products or commandeer production from companies that are not government contractors.

Trump apparently does not have any intention to centralize procurement of needed items by invoking the act.

"Respirators, ventilators, all of the equipment, try getting it yourselves," Trump told the nation's governors on a conference call on Monday.

Reps. Pete DeFazio (D-Ore.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.). and Adam Schiff (D-Cal.) were among lawmakers signing the letter.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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