Given reports that federal authorities are seizing and rerouting personal protective equipment (PPE) supply shipments intended for states, the public needs to know if the federal government is in fact interfering with states’ ability to get needed supplies to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
Soon after Trump designated the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on March 17 as the agency managing federal procurement of supplies, states started to report seizures of PPE shipments. In late March, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker reported that federal authorities seized 3 million protective masks. In early April, federal authorities in New Jersey seized 35,000 masks for frontline workers. More recently, Virginia Senator Mark Warner stated that the federal government had “delayed or restricted” PPE delivery to two Virginia hospital systems.
CREW has requested documents from FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) at large on PPE seizures or re-routing by the agency.
Protective equipment is crucial to the ongoing pandemic response effort and the public has an urgent interest in understanding the federal government’s role in obtaining and distributing it. If FEMA is, indeed, seizing shipments of PPE destined for local hospitals, the public has a right to know. FEMA’s conflict with states that have clashed with Trump throughout the response effort is not new; in late March, there were reports of unequal distribution of PPE supplies from the Strategic National Stockpile to states, seemingly based on favoritism. The requested materials would reveal any yet-unreported instances of PPE seizures, and could also shed light on the true extent of FEMA’s involvement in the previously reported instances.