Clyburn Opening Remarks at Hearing on PPE Shortages
(Washington, D.C., July 2, 2020)—Today, Rep. James E. Clyburn, Chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, delivered the following opening statement at the Subcommittee’s hearing on “The Administration’s Efforts to Procure, Stockpile, and Distribute Critical Supplies.”
Ahead of the hearing, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, the Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, sent a memo to Chairman Clyburn summarizing discussions between Committee staff and representatives of six large medical equipment distribution companies that are playing a role in the Trump Administration’s response to the coronavirus crisis.
Watch Chairman Clyburn’s remarks here:
Chairman Clyburn’s opening remarks:
Today, this Committee will ask several simple questions. More than five months into the coronavirus outbreak, after nearly 130,000 Americans have died, why is our country still facing critical shortages in personal protective equipment and testing supplies that we need to fight this virus?
Why is it that the greatest nation on Earth cannot get a 63-cent mask to everyone who needs one?
This Committee has heard harrowing stories about shortages in critical supplies directly from frontline workers. We heard from doctors and nurses who were forced to reuse protective masks designed to be worn just once. Some health care workers resorted to wearing garbage bags to protect themselves because their hospitals did not have enough gowns. That is a disgrace.
We also heard about bus drivers and grocery clerks who lost their lives because they had to keep working but were not given a mask or a pair of gloves to stay safe. And we heard from nursing home workers and janitors who feared they might be next to die.
Now, some in the Trump Administration would have us believe that these shortages are a thing of the past. They rattle off statistics about the number of supplies delivered, the number of dollars spent, and the number of flights in so-called “Project Airbridge.”
Here are the facts: The White House’s own internal data, released just a few weeks ago, shows we are still facing shortages of tens of millions of N95 masks and gowns—and those shortages may persist for months.
Healthcare providers have confirmed this. On June 12, Kaiser Permanente reported, and I quote, “Like all health care providers, we continue to experience shortages of PPE, including N95 masks.”
These shortages are getting worse as coronavirus infections skyrocket across the country, driving up prices and demand for PPE. Serious shortages have been reported in Texas and Florida, and the Governor of Washington has identified, and I quote, “widespread” shortages in that state.
As infections rise, testing labs around the country are also facing surging demand. Many have issued dire warnings that they are running short of supplies, which could cripple our nation’s ability to conduct coronavirus tests and slow the spread of this virus.
I am alarmed that that nearly half a year into this crisis, the Administration still has not adequately addressed these supply shortages. The federal response has been hobbled by at least three critical errors.
First, the Administration lacks a clear chain of command. Rather than rely on career professionals led by a single official, the President has appointed different officials, agencies, and task forces—including one led by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner—to handle this problem. The result has been confusion, delays, and wasted resources.
Second, the White House has pressured agencies to favor certain companies, and the Administration has often relied on inexperienced, politically connected contractors. A company formed by President Trump’s former Deputy Chief of Staff was awarded a $3 million contract to provide respirator masks to the Navajo Nation. The company had been formed just 11 days earlier, and it has reportedly delivered the wrong type of masks.
Third, rather than take the responsibility for directly purchasing and distributing supplies using the Defense Production Act and other legal authorities, the Trump Administration has largely deferred to the private sector. This has forced states, cities, and even individual hospitals and businesses to compete for scarce resources, driving up prices.
Today, Chairwoman Maloney transmitted to this Subcommittee a startling memo that lays out just how ineffective this hands-off approach is—including the Administration’s signature program, Project Airbridge. The memo shows the Administration refused to take responsibility for determining which recipients would receive PPE or how much they could be charged.
The memo also shows medical supply companies pleaded with the Administration to provide more guidance and to take a more active role in procurement. But according to one company, quote, “politics has gotten in the way of that.”
Thank you, Chairwoman Maloney for sharing the Oversight Committee’s diligent work with us, and for entrusting this Subcommittee to carry it forward. I can assure you that we intend to get to the bottom of this.
As I have said before, the purpose of this Committee’s oversight is not to cast blame for past failures but to make improvements to ensure future success.
So today, our goal to better understand why the Administration has failed to meet our country’s need for PPE and testing supplies, and to seek a commitment from the witnesses to take concrete steps to finally address these shortages.
I now yield to the Ranking Member for his opening statement.