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New documents show Trump officials’ ‘haphazard and ineffective’ approach to procuring PPE at start of pandemic, House committee says

The Democratic-led House select committee reviewing the federal response to Covid-19 says it obtained documents that show the Trump administration at the start of the pandemic crisis “pursued a haphazard and ineffective approach to procurement” of personal protective equipment and medical supplies.

In letters to three government agencies dated Tuesday, the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis said the new evidence shows that senior Trump White House officials “steered contracts to particular companies without adequate diligence or competition,” and raises further questions about whether officials, including former Trump White House official Peter Navarro, inappropriately influenced the federal government to award contracts to companies to procure PPE.

“We have learned that the Trump administration’s failure to develop a national policy as they were urged to do resulted in a hodgepodge of activity going on, each state left to its own innovations, and it resulted in a failed policy,” House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis chair James Clyburn said on CNN’s “New Day” Wednesday.

“In a war, you need to move with warp speed. My mission was to assist the President in saving lives, which we undeniably did. Given the same set of facts, I would do everything exactly the same,” Navarro said in a statement Wednesday provided to CNN.

New emails released by the House select committee claim that Navarro bypassed the federal procurement process in accepting a $96.4 million proposal from AirBoss Defense Group for powered respirators and filters before a contract had been executed.

Navarro wrote to ADG’s CEO saying the proposal would be “sent forthwith for swift approval up the chain” and they could “consider it done.” He added that the federal government would want 100,000 respirators, instructed the company to start producing respirators, and to send the invoice to FEMA. According to the committee, Navarro had no authority to issue federal contracts and FEMA contracting professionals appeared to be included in the process after ADG’s initial delivery of 50 respirators. FEMA executed the final contract on March 31, 2020.

Navarro also urged Health and Human Services agency officials to hurry into a $354 million contract for pharmaceutical ingredients to a newly formed company, Phlow Corporation, which was awarded on May 18, 2020.

“My head is going to explode if this contract does not get immediately approved,” Navarro wrote in a March 20, 2020, email to Rick Bright, the former director of Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, and Robert Kadlec, the assistant secretary for preparedness and response at HHS. “This is being screwed up. Let’s move this now. We need to flip the switch and they can’t move until you do. FULL funding as we discussed.”

The Democratic-led House committee wrote in a letter to Biden administration HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra that the documents regarding the Phlow contract raise questions about “whether appropriate diligence was performed and whether the contract is in taxpayers’ best interest.”

The committee raised concerns about Navarro appearing to work with a non-government, outside adviser in negotiating these two contracts, rather than career federal procurement and public health experts.

The committee also released a March 2020 memo from Navarro in which he warned that “movement has been slow” to combat the virus and made recommendations to mobilize of supply chains and ramp up treatment developments. “There is NO downside risk to taking swift actions as an insurance policy against what may be a very serious public health emergency,” he wrote in his memo.

Navarro said in his statement defending his actions said the “House Select Subcommittee has acknowledged the essential role I played in bringing our medical supply chains home and ensuring that we swiftly filled the Strategic National Stockpile with critically needed, domestically-produced PPE and ventilators.”

“As a result of my efforts on behalf of President Trump, no American who needed a ventilator went without a ventilator,” he added.

The committee also wrote asking HHS, DHS and National Archives and Records Administration for all documents and communications related to the Trump administration’s “Project Airbridge,” an initiative to expedite the shipment of supplies overseas, from January 1, 2020, to January 20, 2021.

Article Topic Follows: Health

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