FAA wants staff to reallocate 'excess' PPE for COVID-19 response

The Federal Aviation Administration put out an email blast to employees at field offices and airport facilities on April 8 looking for medical supplies to share out to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services.

The email asks employees to reallocate N95, N99 and surgical masks, hand sanitizer, face shields, surgical gowns, gloves, Tyvek suits and coveralls that are "excess to your needs" so that they can be redirected to the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Employees are instructed to recode the items as "excess" in their inventory tracking system so that the General Services Administration can allocate them to HHS and FEMA.

The move by FAA aligns with news in an April 7 Washington Post story that detailed how federal agencies are being asked to open up caches of personal protective equipment needed in the COVID-19 response.

Agencies maintain their own supplies of such equipment for emergency response functions as well as to protect employees in the event of an emergency.

For example, the Environmental Protection Agency announced on April 6 that it planned to donate 225,000 "pieces of personal protective equipment" to support COVID-19 response.

The need for this approach to obtain medical supplies is adding to concern about the viability of existing medical equipment supply chains and the role of government procurement infrastructure to manage their production, acquisition and delivery.

Three House committee chairmen implored President Donald Trump in an April 8 letter to immediately use his authorities under the Defense Production Act to put out contracts for needed supplies.

"It is clear that multiple industries along the medical supply and equipment supply chain are willing to assist, and while the Administration has partially invoked the Defense Production Act (DPA), now is the time to use every authority available to the federal government, including emergency contracting procedures, to shorten the delivery timeline to American communities in urgent need," Reps. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) wrote. The three are the leaders of respectively the Armed Services Committee, the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Homeland Security Committee.

"Every day that goes by without the award of targeted contracts increases risk of damage to our nation's health," they wrote. "Contracts would provide a clear demand signal from the federal government regarding the rapidly growing need to incentivize companies to pivot to producing medical supplies."

In comments to reporters April 7, Smith said the Department of Defense has deployed existing assets but could be doing more to respond to the need for materials.

Smith said he was unsure if DOD officials were advocating strongly to ramp up production.

"I don't know what's going on behind closed doors," he said, "All I know is that in the back end, I don't think the DOD Is being used in these ways, in the way that they should be to meet this crisis."

Defense reporter Lauren C. Williams contributed to this story.

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