At Hearing on Supply Shortages, Top Officials Acknowledge Country Is Failing to Control Coronavirus
(Washington, DC - July 2, 2020) Today, the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, chaired by Rep. James E. Clyburn, held a hearing to examine the Trump Administration’s failure to fully address critical shortages in personal protective equipment and testing supplies.
In his closing statement, Chairman Clyburn said: “Today’s hearing made clear that as coronavirus infections and hospitalizations spike around the country, communities are facing alarming shortages of personal protective equipment and testing supplies. We need urgent action from the federal government to address these shortages now, before more people are exposed and the virus spins further out of control.”
Chairman Clyburn emphasized the need for the Administration to have a clear chain of command, rigorous contracting practices, and a comprehensive plan to directly procure and distribute critical supplies, rather than continuing to defer to the private sector.
Prior to the hearing, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, Chairwoman to the Oversight and Reform Committee, provided a memo to Chairman Clyburn with new information on the Administration’s failure to procure PPE.
Witnesses at the hearing included Rear Admiral John Polowczyk, head of FEMA’s Supply Chain Stabilization Task Force; Admiral Brett Giroir, M.D., Assistant Secretary for Health at the Department of Health and Human Services; and Kevin Fahey, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition at the Department of Defense.
Witnesses provided the following information:
The United States is losing control of the spread of the coronavirus
- Admiral Giroir, the federal government’s top testing official, stated, “We are all concerned about recent data from several states indicating rising infections and now an uptick in hospitalizations and deaths.” He also stated, “We are not flattening the curve right now. The curve is still going up.”
- Admiral Giroir emphasized that the rise in positive case numbers is not being caused by an increase in testing—contrary to repeated claims by President Trump. Admiral Giroir said, “We do believe this is a real increase in cases because the percent positivities are going up.”
- When asked by Chairman Clyburn whether the virus would “disappear miraculously,” as President Trump has claimed, Admiral Giroir rejected the idea, stating, “We will only gain control over COVID-19 by disciplined public health measures and eventually a vaccine.”
The Trump Administration lacks a clear chain of command to address shortages
- Rear Admiral Polowczyk, who leads FEMA’s supply chain task force, said he lacked any authority over contracting and acquisition and did not have staff to carry out those missions. He stated, “the acquisition and contracting people don’t work for me,” and said, “I have none of those authorities.”
- Contrary to numerous public reports, Rear Admiral Polowczyk denied that White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner has been involved in procurement activities. Asked by Rep. Waters about Mr. Kushner’s role in procuring contracts for personal protective equipment, Rear Admiral Polowczyk stated, “Mr. Kushner plays no role in anything I do,” and said, “I would highly doubt that he has any role in acquisition and contracting.”
The Trump Administration lacks visibility into PPE supply in states
- Rear Admiral Polowczyk said that he has “no visibility” into “what states, local municipalities and private institutions have bought.” When asked by Rep. Waters whether states regularly report quantities of PPE on hand to the Supply Chain Stabilization Task Force, Rear Admiral Polowczyk replied, “States at this time are not reporting on that.”
President Trump left the World Health Organization without consulting key staff
- Admiral Giroir, the federal government’s designated representative to the World Health organization (W.H.O.) Executive Board, testified that he was never consulted before President Trump decided to withdraw the country from the W.H.O. in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. He stated, “I was not asked for a recommendation.”