Pentagon Spent Coronavirus PPE Money On War Stuff Instead Of PPE
As part of the CARES Act, Congress appropriated a billion dollars for the Department of Defense to help increase America's stockpiles of medical supplies, stuff like masks and gowns and other personal protective equipment that was in desperately short supply when the bill passed in March. Today, the Washington Post reports that instead, the Pentagon shifted most of the funds to send money to defense contractors, which after all are businesses affected by the pandemic, too. Mind you, the companies that got the funds didn't need to do anything like protect their workforce from layoffs. It's tough times for everybody, so come to the trough, defense contractors!
Much of the money went to companies making important pandemic-related supplies like "jet engine parts, body armor and dress uniforms," not to mention drone and satellite systems that the Pentagon really wanted. The CARES Act specified the Pentagon should use the funds to "prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus." Which the DOD very quickly decided could be interpreted to mean "fund stuff we didn't have an appropriation for, with the excuse that we're protecting American jerbs."
Clearly, staff at restaurants and other small businesses that are going under due to the pandemic should have convinced the Pentagon they were doing National Defense stuff. Armor-piercing lattes, anyone?
And yes, the article concedes, it's "only" a billion dollars out of the $3 trillion that went into the CARES Act, but it demonstrates how the big buckets of "coronavirus relief" money could be easily steered to companies that Congress hadn't intended to bail out. And so far, while members of Congress, especially on the House Appropriations Committee, have been crying foul, there hasn't been a hell of a lot of accountability from the Pentagon. Instead, the DOD has mostly been smiling and explaining that keeping money flowing to defense contractors IS pandemic relief. What, you want these American defense workers to go hungry?
This is where we yell that if Congress had put in place an emergency guaranteed income for all American workers, instead of doling out buckets of money for industries and companies, we wouldn't be talking about stimmy money going to manufacturers of jet parts, and we'd probably be doing better with the pandemic, too, because workers could've just stayed home instead of having to rush back to jobs and spread the goddamn virus.
And again, the House was quite clear about what the funds were intended for. In a report, the Appropriations Committee said its "expectation was that the Department would address the need for PPE industrial capacity rather than execute the funding for the DIB (defense industrial base)." Not that anyone's going to return the money.
The billion-dollar fund was authorized under the Defense Production Act, which allows the government to compel industry to provide stuff that's needed for a defense or other emergency, like a pandemic. But not long after the appropriation was made, clever Pentagon lawyers decided that the money didn't necessarily have to go to anything directly related to the pandemic, because hey, it's all defense production, ain't it?
Among the awards: $183 million to firms including Rolls-Royce and ArcelorMittal to maintain the shipbuilding industry; tens of millions of dollars for satellite, drone and space surveillance technology; $80 million to a Kansas aircraft parts business suffering from the Boeing 737 Max grounding and the global slowdown in air travel; and $2 million for a domestic manufacturer of Army dress uniform fabric.
The Pentagon's undersecretary of Defense for acquisition and sustainment, Ellen Lord, issued a statement saying it was just a delight to work with Congress to "invest in domestic production of critical medical resources and protect key defense capabilities from the consequences of COVID," even if most of the money went to stuff that had nothing to do with the pandemic. The statement chided, "We need to always remember that economic security and national security are very tightly interrelated and our industrial base is really the nexus of the two."
Translation: What's good for M&M Enterprises is good for America, and everybody has a share. So stop complaining that the first aid kit has no morphine for poor Snowden.
The Post story points out that the Pentagon already gets money through the Defense Production Act to help support companies it considers "critical," but nothing like the windfall provided by the CARES Act: "the 2020 allocation was about $64 million."
How bad was this spending spree? The Post found a guy from the righty American Enterprise Institute, Bill Greenwalt, a former George W. Bush defense bean counter, who said the money went to companies the Pentagon thinks are important, "but that are only tangentially related to COVID."
And for that matter, the pandemic funding was thrown at defense contractors while the Pentagon's budget is already near Cold War levels of funding, thanks to Donald Trump's love of military spending, if not the actual troops. Companies making money selling weapons systems are smart, not suckers.
On top of all that, at least 10 companies not only got money from the Defense Production Act fund, but also got loans from the Paycheck Protection Program, because they were small businesses in need of aid.
For instance, Weber Metals, a California-based subsidiary of German firm Otto Fuchs, received between $5 million and $10 million through PPP in April to support 412 jobs, and then got an extra boost through a $25 million DOD relief award in June.
All perfectly legal, too, since nothing in the PPP rules excluded defense contractors. All they want is what's coming to them. All they want is their fair share. If other people don't know how to work the system, that's hardly the fault of hard-working jet engine parts manufacturers. Besides, a jet exhaust is hot enough to kill just about any virus. That should count for something.
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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.