President Donald Trump said Wednesday he will invoke the Defense Production Act to step up production of medical equipment to combat the coronavirus outbreak.
The DPA was enacted in 1950 to help the U.S. mobilize for the Korean War. A day after balking at invoking it — saying, “We hope we don’t need it. It’s a big step” — Trump said he would be signing it shortly.
“There’s never been an instance like this where no matter what you have, it’s not enough,” Trump told reporters, adding, “If we need to use it, we’ll be using it at full speed ahead.”
The law allows the federal government to compel companies through loans, loan guarantees, purchases and purchase commitments to prioritize and expedite production of supplies and resources to support national defense.
In the case of the coronavirus crisis, it is needed to provide medical equipment that is in short supply, including personal protective equipment like masks, gowns and gloves for doctors and nurses and ventilators for patients.
The DPA would allow the U.S. government “to incentivize a company who already makes [emergency medical supplies] to make more of them,” Jeff Bialos, who served as deputy undersecretary of defense for industrial affairs in the Clinton administration, told Yahoo News.
As The Hill reports, “Supply chains are extremely strained due to tariffs on China, the main supplier of medical goods to the U.S. While the Trump administration has recently taken some action to ease those tariffs, China and other countries are also blocking exports of those products as they seek to combat the pandemic within their borders.”
There had been mounting pressure on Trump to invoke the DPA, including from House members and Democrats in the U.S. Senate.
“We need the federal government to aggressively step up its leadership in the battle against COVID-19 by mobilizing the mass production of urgently-needed equipment,” Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) wrote the president in a letter Tuesday.
The U.S. medical system has about 160,000 ventilators but as many as 740,000 could be needed, according to one study.