April 03, 2020

Harris Demands Transparency & Accountability For Prioritization Of Medical Supplies Amid COVID-19 Crisis

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) on Friday sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Peter Gaynor, and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar demanding answers on how the federal government is making decisions of where to send scarce resources across the country to combat the COVID-19 crisis. Californians and Americans across the nation are in dire need of supplies such as respirators, masks, and ventilators. The federal government has yet to meet the demands of this crisis, risking the health and safety of the American people.

“At a time when states, tribes, territories, localities, and medical professionals are increasingly turning to the federal government for help in securing necessary supplies and other assistance, I am particularly alarmed that the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) has been depleted when we are still weeks away from the peak of this crisis,” said Harris.

Harris continued, “Now that FEMA has assumed responsibility for coordination of the federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including oversight of the depleted SNS and securing and allocating badly-needed supplies from manufacturers and abroad, Congress and the American people need to know how decisions are made and prioritized.”

Full text of the letter can be find here and below.

April 3, 2020

The Honorable Michael Pence                                   The Honorable Peter Gaynor

Vice President of the United States                            Administrator

The White House                                                        Federal Emergency Management Agency

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW                                 500 C St NW

Washington, DC 20500                                              Washington, DC 20472

 

The Honorable Alex Azar

Secretary

Department of Health and Human Services

330 C St NW

Washington, DC 20416

 

Dear Vice President Pence, Administrator Gaynor, and Secretary Azar:

I write regarding the widespread shortage of supplies necessary to combat the spread of COVID-19. At a time when states, tribes, territories, localities, and medical professionals are increasingly turning to the federal government for help in securing necessary supplies and other assistance, I am particularly alarmed that the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) has been depleted when we are still weeks away from the peak of this crisis.

There is growing concern among officials on the frontlines about the ability of the federal government to meet their needs during this national emergency. On March 16, 2020, during a call with the Nation’s governors, President Trump told states to work to obtain critical supplies like respirators, masks, and ventilators on their own, resulting in a competition among states for scarce resources. Two weeks later, one governor, who was disturbed to learn that the SNS was nearly empty, said “for now, we are on our own.” We need leadership at the federal level now more than ever.

My state of California has received some critical supplies and other support from the federal government. However, California has since requested 10,000 ventilators, 20 million N95 masks, 200,000 RNA extraction kits, other personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as additional hospital capacity and staff. Those requests, as of today, remain unfulfilled. As manufacturers work to produce new equipment and flights of supplies arrive daily from overseas, the federal government must be transparent in how it is making decisions on allocating that equipment.  

While the SNS was under the control of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), HHS indicated that 25 percent of the SNS was distributed based on state population, 25 percent distributed based on projected severity of outbreak, and 50 percent held for strategic purposes. Now that FEMA has assumed responsibility for coordination of the federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including oversight of the depleted SNS and securing and allocating badly-needed supplies from manufacturers and abroad, Congress and the American people need to know how decisions are made and prioritized. To that end, I request detailed, thorough answers to the following questions by Wednesday, April 8, 2020:

  1. How is FEMA communicating to states, tribes, and territories what federal support, including supplies, are available now and in the future, and on what timeline?
  2. How is FEMA tracking various requests coming in from states, tribes, and territories?
  3. How is FEMA tracking the various sources of supplies coming from the SNS, domestic manufacturers, overseas supplies, or any other source?
  4. How is FEMA prioritizing and fulfilling requests for supplies?
  5. How is FEMA prioritizing and fulfilling requests for increased hospital capacity?
  6. How is FEMA prioritizing and fulfilling requests for medical personnel?
  7. How is FEMA coordinating the prioritization and fulfillment of requests with the other federal agencies?
  8. How is FEMA communicating about status of requests and availability of resources to states, tribes, and territories?
  9. How is HHS involved in this decision-making process?
  10. How will FEMA or HHS exercise the authorities of the Defense Production Act to aid in addressing the shortage of necessary supplies, and on what timeline?

Transparency and accountability are essential during this crisis—the health and safety of the American people depend on it. Thank you for your prompt attention to this request.

 

Sincerely,

 

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