The Cares Act, which Congress passed earlier this year, gave the Pentagon money to “prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus.” But a few weeks later, the Defense Department began reshaping how it would award the money in a way that represented a major departure from Congress’s intent.
The payments were made even though U.S. health officials think major funding gaps in pandemic response still remain. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in Senate testimony last week that states desperately need $6 billion to distribute vaccines to Americans early next year. Many U.S. hospitals still face a severe shortage of N95 masks. These are the types of problems that the money was originally intended to address.
“This is part and parcel of whether we have budget priorities that actually serve our public safety or whether we have a government that is captured by special interests,” said Mandy Smithberger, a defense analyst at the Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group.
DOD officials contend that they have sought to strike a balance between boosting American medical production and supporting the defense industry, whose health they consider critical to national security. The Pentagon, which as of 2016 employed more than 156,000 people working in acquisitions alone, also has lent its expertise to the Department of Health and Human Services as it seeks to purchase billions of dollars in needed medical equipment.
“We are thankful the Congress provided authorities and resources that enabled the [executive branch] to invest in domestic production of critical medical resources and protect key defense capabilities from the consequences of COVID,” Ellen Lord, the Pentagon’s undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment, said in a statement. “We need to always remember that economic security and national security are very tightly interrelated and our industrial base