Pentagon Used Congress Funding For PPE To Stockpile Military Equipment Instead

Defense Secretary Mark Esper, with US President Donald Trump, speaks on vaccine development on May 15, 2020 at the White House. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)
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September 22, 2020 8:10 a.m.

Investigation into a $1 billion fund allotted by Congress to the Pentagon in March to bolster the country’s supplies of medical equipment reveals that the funds have been mostly diverted to defense contractors and used to manufacture military equipment like jet engine parts, body armor and dress uniforms.

The Washington Post reported the finding which demonstrates how a taxpayer-based effort to combat COVID-19 was redirected to stockpiling military supplies.

Passed earlier this year, the Cares Act distributed funds to the Pentagon to “prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus.” But per the Post, in a matter of weeks, the Defense Department began reshaping how that money would be used — diverging from the original intent of Congress for the funds. 

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The payments were made despite warnings from health officials as recently as last week that suggested there continue to be major funding gaps in responding to the pandemic. CDC director Robert Redfield, testified to the Senate last week that states desperately need $6 billion to distribute vaccines to Americans early next year.

The funds could also be used to fill what continues to be a severe shortage of N95 masks at some hospitals knees-deep in their fight against the virus. But in the months after the stimulus package was passed, the Pentagon made other plans for the money.

According to the Post’s report, the Pentagon instead decided to give defense contractors hundreds of millions of dollars from the fund, mostly for projects that have little to do with the coronavirus response. Defense Department lawyers quickly determined that the funds could be used for defense production, a conclusion that Congress later disputed.

Rolls-Royce and ArcelorMittal among other firms were awarded $183 million to maintain the shipbuilding industry; tens of millions of dollars were awarded for satellite, drone and space surveillance technology; $80 million were given to a Kansas aircraft parts business which suffered a blow following the slowing of air travel amid the coronavirus and the Boeing 737 Max grounding. A domestic manufacturer for Army dress uniform fabric also received $2 million, the Post found.

DOD officials contended to the Post that they have sought to balance boosting American medical production with supporting the defense industry, whose health they say is critical to national security. 

But the Post’s review of  a House Committee on Appropriations report shows that the use of emergency funding to boost defense contractors goes against the committee’s intent to promote the manufacturing of personal protective equipment.

“The Committee’s expectation was that the Department would address the need for PPE industrial capacity rather than execute the funding for the DIB (defense industrial base),” the committee wrote in its report on the 2021 defense bill.

Per the Post, Pentagon officials have defended their decisions, saying that they have been transparent with both Democrats and Republicans in Congress on their plans for the funds.

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