Right now, the federal government and the 50 states that comprise our great nation are competing — against one another — for personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect front-line health care workers and ventilators and critical care equipment required to treat our neighbors hospitalized by the new coronavirus. The same dynamic is also playing out in the shortage of critical supplies needed to ramp up our testing capacity across the country in any meaningful way.
As a new member of Congress who spent more than two decades working for medical manufacturing companies that relied heavily on supply chain management and logistics to provide products to more than 100 countries around the world, I know we would never have stood by as different divisions bid against one another to get the components necessary to complete their work.
We are still in desperate need of a centralized strategy to fix the supply chain and logistics issues around the delivery of more PPE to the heroes on the front line of this pandemic and to those working in other critical sectors, such as our food supply chain.
There have been well-intentioned efforts by the administration, like project Airbridge, where FEMA, the State Department and private businesses worked together to bring down the time it takes to ship PPE and medical supplies from across the world. But what remains troubling is that once those goods are in the United States, there is no central management to make certain the supplies are reaching the most hard-hit areas, or any transparency about where they are going.
Meanwhile, I continue to talk to local doctors and nurses each week pleading with me to help them get the PPE to help protect themselves as they care for COVID-19 patients. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General has found that hospitals are resorting to unvetted suppliers, paying higher prices, reusing disposable supplies and seeking out non-medical-grade protective equipment. This current approach is not only inefficient, but it is unsafe, unproductive and chaotic.
We need to centralize our health care supply chain with clear accountability at the federal level.
I recently helped found the Supply Chain Caucus with my colleagues from both sides of the aisle. Together, we have a collective understanding of the importance of supply chains and a focus on strengthening and adding resilience to ultimately protect the delivery system that manufacturers, businesses and people rely on for their goods every day.
Currently, our supply chains are being severely harmed by the new coronavirus outbreak. I can’t force the administration to take the leadership role we need, but I can work with colleagues to introduce the emergency supply chain transparency bill, which would increase transparency by requiring reports to Congress regarding supplies, equipment and other resources used to respond to emergencies through the Stafford Act and Defense Production Act. This additional transparency would help us confirm that lifesaving supplies reach our front-line health workers and first responders.
We must continue to push for a centralized, coordinated, strategic approach to stop the blind release of critical health care equipment and instead actively management our supply chain. This is the only way to ensure that we put what’s needed in the hands of health care and other heroic workers on the front line who need it the most.
Angie Craig, a Democrat, represents Minnesota’s Second Congressional District in the U.S. House.