Senate Democrats today introduced a bill that would put control of the nation’s medical supply chain in the hands of the federal government, using its expertise in military production and distribution to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Medical Supply Delivery and Transparency Act would require the secretary of defense to appoint a civilian with experience in military and industrial purchasing and manufacturing to direct the national production and distribution of critical medical equipment and supplies, including personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing supplies.
All PPE and COVID-related testing orders from state governments and Indian tribes would go to this person, who would recommend using the Defense Production Act when necessary and oversee distribution based on need.
The new medical supply czar would also have the power require a comprehensive plan to scale production and optimize distribution of diagnostic and serological (antibody) COVID–19 tests and address supply chain issues to rapidly scale up production of a vaccine for the virus.
The bill would also enable the new Executive Officer for Critical Medical Equipment and Supplies to compile data from commercial distributors that are able to fulfill related purchase orders. And it would require regular public updates on supplies.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has been calling for a medical supply czar for weeks, prompting a tongue-lashing from President Trump earlier this month. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has Rear Adm. John Polowczyk overseeing the national supply chain.
This bill would unlock “the full authority and power of the Defense Production Act to scale up nation-wide production of the testing supplies, personal protective equipment, and medical equipment our health care workers need to protect themselves, take care of patients, and save lives,” said bill co-sponsor Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) in a news release.
Co-sponsor Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said the Trump administration’s efforts have “left states operating in a Lord of the Flies environment in the middle of a global pandemic” with governors competing against one another for medical supplies amid price-gouging.
The bill has support from, 46 senators and from major labor unions, including the AFL-CIO, SEIU, the National Nurses United, and the United Steelworkers. Four Democratic members of Congress will introduce the House version of the bill.
Democrats are hoping the bill will be included in the next round of emergency funding for the federal COVID-19 response.