June 23, 2020

Van Hollen, Duckworth, King Introduce Bill to Significantly Enhance Domestic Production of Life-Saving Medical Supplies

U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), and Angus King (I-ME) have introduced legislation to strengthen the national response to pandemics by modernizing the production of critical medical supplies for frontline healthcare providers. The Public Health Emergency (PHE) Production Act would ensure the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) fully leverages its allocation authorities under the Defense Production Act (DPA) to respond to current and future emergencies. 

“As our country nears the sixth month of the COVID-19 pandemic, our hospitals, health care professionals, frontline workers, and state and local governments are still facing a shortage of critical supplies,” said Senator Van Hollen. “The Administration to-date has not utilized the Defense Production Act to effectively ramp up the production of necessary protective equipment and testing supplies. This is unacceptable. This legislation will require HHS to fully implement the DPA to ensure that our country meets the continued demand for the supplies necessary to respond to COVID-19.” 

Senator Van Hollen has repeatedly called on the Trump Administration to utilize the DPA to increase production of medical supplies and testing equipment. He urged President Trump to fully invoke the DPA in mid-March and again later in the month, following the President’s partial and inadequate attempt to invoke the DPA. He pressed the Administration further on this issue in early May and pushed back again following Trump’s decision to fire the Department of Defense official overseeing DPA

“Trump’s chaotic and inadequate response to the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in shortages of testing supplies, PPE and other medical equipment that our frontline healthcare providers rely on,” Senator Duckworth said. “This public health crisis is not over, which is why it’s critical that we address these gaps. I’m proud to introduce this legislation with Senator King and Senator Van Hollen to boost production and distribution of this equipment while maintaining effective oversight.” 

“In times of crisis, American leaders marshal the collective capabilities of our nation in order to protect our people from harm – it’s what they’ve always done,” said Senator King. “Unfortunately, that’s not what we’re seeing now. In the midst of the continuing coronavirus crisis, the Administration has been slow to use its full Defense Production Act powers to accelerate production of testing supplies, PPE, and other lifesaving medical supplies. We need to do more, and this legislation will make sure that HHS is exploring every possible opportunity to respond to this crisis and give our healthcare providers every tool available to save lives.” 

Specifically, the Public Health Emergency (PHE) Production Act would:

  • Prioritize fulfillment of federal contracts for existing public health goods and services ahead of private sector orders and requiring all actions taken under Title I of the DPA to be reported to the Federal Procurement Data System by amending Title I. 
  • Require the DPA fund to be fairly distributed among all federal agencies responsible for carrying out DPA efforts, especially for public health programs and establishing an interagency rotation program between HHS and the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Industrial Policy to strengthen interagency coordination with the DPA fund.
  • Establish a permanent “DPA Title III Program Office” in the HHS Office of the ASPR for the purposes of planning, reporting and implementing authorities to boost the manufacturing of critical public health resources that are vital to effective pandemic preparedness and response by Amending Title III.
  • Require the DPA Committee submit a report to Congress once a month during the COVID-19 national emergency on DPA COVID-19-related activities and that the Inspector General of Agriculture submit to Congress a report on the use of DPA authorities regarding meat processing facilities.