Jared Kushner's PPE Follies
When the history of the 2020 coronavirus outbreak in the US is written, there's going to be a lot to say about the federal government's terrible, contradictory management of getting scarce medical supplies to the hospitals facing the biggest shortages. Or at least that's where the supplies are supposed to go; sometimes the supplies end up where they're most needed, and sometimes they end up in states Donald Trump wants to win in the fall election. And as NBC News details in a jaw-dropping story, the Trump administration is, as ever, making up its intervention in the medical supply chain as it goes along, on the one hand telling states and hospitals they're on their own and need to find supplies themselves, but using the other hand to make sure big companies get top dollar, and distributing some supplies based on the expert whims of Jared Kushner and his pals.
Those future historians are going to have their hands full sorting all this out, assuming the records aren't all sent down the memory hole.
The story starts off with one lovely example of how the feds are "helping," explaining that chemical giant DuPont recognized early on in the pandemic that it would be selling a hell of a lot of protective suits made from its patented material Tyvek. The company increased production of the fabric in the US, so it could be sent off to factories in Vietnam and made into suits that sell to hospitals for about $5 per unit.
Then along came the federal government with a deal that would have made Milo Minderbinder grin:
It usually takes up to three months to ship the material to Vietnam, where it is sewn into body suits, and get it back. When the federal government offered to pay for chartered flights to reduce the round trip for 750,000 items to 10 days, DuPont agreed.
Then DuPont sold 60 percent of the protective equipment, commonly called PPE, to Uncle Sam while keeping 40 percent for its other customers. The company refused to say how much the Department of Health and Human Services paid for 450,000 suits, but a spokesperson noted that they sell for up to $15 apiece, three times what they fetched before the virus pandemic.
"We actually helped get raw materials supplied from Richmond, Virginia, and we flew that s--- to Vietnam, all so that DuPont could sell us" their products, said a senior federal official involved in the coronavirus effort.
And everyone has a share!
But it got much-needed stuff back to the US faster, and isn't that a wonderful thing? So please don't harp on about the expense, because you liberals love spending taxpayer money, don't you?
The story details how, in typical Trumpy fashion, Mike Pence's coronavirus task force bypassed all the established emergency experts and systems the government already had in place, so the supply chain could be managed by Jared and his team of entreprenerd buddies. In the process, the supply chain unit "has favored some of the nation's largest corporations and ignored smaller producers of goods and services with long track records of meeting emergency needs," according to NBC's anonymous sources in government agencies, as well as a number of emergency-contracting experts who went on the record.
Big surprise: The New Bosses are operating mostly outside official channels, with no oversight, because it's easier that way, and far more efficient, you bet. And while they're at it, they've played hell with getting medical supplies where they're needed, leaving state and local officials confused and bidding against each other and the feds, often finding out that supplies they'd contracted for ended up getting poached by FEMA. And of course, that's resulted in medical staff having to go without the personal protective equipment they need.
Along the way, the NBC News report explains some companies are doing quite well with all this, like Federal Express, whose spokesperson simply "laughed when asked what the government is paying for each of the 40 flights the carrier has chartered" for the HHS and FEMA. A government official said the charter flights could cost up to a million bucks each, compared to Defense Department planes that agencies can make use of "for about $10,000 an hour. A round trip from the East Coast to Vietnam on a commercial flight takes about 41 hours of flying time." We're just checking the math on that, but that sounds like about half the price?
The top two priorities of the supply chain unit, say officials, are making sure that companies make a profit off the contracts, and making sure the White House gets to say where supplies go. Those are so important that they're informally called "the children" inside FEMA, as in Won't Someone Think Of Them. And because Jared and crew had to learn how stuff worked as they went along, the process of taking over the supply chain added weeks to the federal response. While they were at it, they upended the usual process of dealing with emergency procurement, because what do deep-state "experts" know anyway? In addition, Team Jared "ended FEMA's long-running practice of using its regional offices to find, pay for and acquire goods from smaller local vendors in an emergency," because it was more convenient to call in big national companies the dudes on the task force already had in their phones' contact list.
Another f'rinstance, from an anonymous vendor that has handled FEMA contracts previously and didn't want to say anything lest future business be ruined:
The supplier [...] was originally contacted by a FEMA regional official in mid-March about producing face shields, which protect medical personnel from being sprayed with virus particles by patients.
The supplier initially bought $20,000 of material and told the regional office that production could be ramped up to 10,000 face shields per day, using a supply chain based fully in the U.S., almost immediately. But word came back that under the new system, the regional office couldn't approve the buy. The application would have to go through the main federal acquisition system, where it still sits.
Serves 'em right, not having the foresight to know Jared's people in advance.
The story also looks in some detail at how the "40-40-20" formula" the task force made up to allocate supplies has led to the feds hijacking the very supplies that state and local governments, and hospital networks, have gone and found themselves, just like they were told to.
The first 20 percent is reserved for the federal government's Strategic National Stockpile. The task force directs where the next 40 percent goes, and the company selling the product gets to deliver the remaining 40 percent as it sees fit.
Is there a publicly available, transparent accounting of how FEMA makes decisions on how to route — or snatch up and reroute — medical supplies? Yeah, right — put the spokesperson for FedEx on the phone again.
And while the administration is definitely doing a kind of socialism, for corporations, by intervening in the supply chain, it's also pointedly not using the Defense Production Act to make manufacture and delivery of medical supplies part of the "war effort" against the pandemic. Instead, to avoid "abuse" of federal power, Team Jared is making sure the companies all make out well, while a portion of the goods go to the public good, albeit at the highest price. The possibility that the government could order companies to do stuff to save lives, regardless of how large the profit margin might be, is simply not on the table. And the table was probably overpriced and purchased outside the usual procedure.
And all the while, good-government types are tearing out their hair and screaming this doesn't have to be such a clusterfuck; we could be doing this a lot more fairly and effectively. But they're probably just sore losers trying to overturn the American People's choice in 2016.
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.