Building an industrial base to protect America’s public health

Lowell, MA, April 9, 2020

It is shocking that hospitals in Massachusetts lack the equipment they need to treat the surge of patients suffering from COVID-19, and maddening that so many brave frontline health care workers lack the personal protective equipment (PPE) to safely do their jobs.

As we support those working to save lives now, we also must ensure that the mistakes hampering their efforts aren’t repeated in the future… and help people looking for work because of the economic devastation caused by this crisis.

There is a way we can address both of these needs immediately.

Our national security policy requires that much of our military equipment is produced domestically, so our military isn’t dependent on a foreign supply chain during a time of war.

This is not the case in the war we are fighting against COVID-19.

Unfortunately, much of the equipment needed to protect our healthcare workers is made overseas and we’re struggling to get our hands on it. Further complicating matters, the Trump administration has put in place a chaotic system where states are competing with each other and the federal government to buy PPE and ventilators. Making matters worse, the White House sent a huge cache of PPE to China at the start of this crisis, reducing our supply of equipment as the virus came to our shores.

To prevent this catastrophe from happening in the future, we must treat essential medical equipment as a matter of urgent national interest and insist that we have the capability to manufacture it here at home. Doing so will not only protect us from the next pandemic, but will also help create good manufacturing jobs we need to keep our economy strong – in good times and in bad.

The Berry Amendment is a law that requires the Department of Defense to purchase American made equipment. Congress needs to pass and the president needs to sign into law the same domestic requirement for PPE and essential medical equipment purchased by the federal government. Creating a Pandemic Production Act for the 21st Century would allow the government to incentivize industry, create jobs at home, and help to combat future pandemic outbreaks.

Across the country, Americans are already approaching the pandemic in this way. From the daily heroics of healthcare workers and first responders, to the breakneck race for the discovery of a vaccine and treatments by our scientists, to businesses re-purposing their factories to produce ventilators and face masks — to say nothing of the actions ordinary Americans are taking to adapt their lives to social distancing.

The dedication exhibited by Americans must now be met with a commitment from the federal government to uphold its end of the bargain and ensure our essential workers have the tools and resources they need to win this war and defeat this enemy.

Much as we are calling on America’s manufacturing sector to help us now, we must also be prepared to help them later. In the coming weeks, Congress will consider another relief package.  It should include a recognition that manufacturers have joined the fight by retooling plants, designing prototypes, and ramping up production of PPE.

These companies are acting quickly to help on what they hope is a temporary basis. While some may continue to produce PPE and ventilators, many will return to their commercial products once this crisis has been averted. Congress should pass measures to defray the cost of retooling, and put incentives in place to keep some of them producing PPE.

Among other measures, I will be advocating for a Berry Amendment solution to pandemics in addition to conventional military needs. America would never rely on anyone else to protect us in a war, so why are we doing it now?

We are normally in a strong enough position to help our own citizens and the rest of the world – which is why the USA is a world power. It’s time to modernize our thinking and build up this capability so that we aren’t caught off-guard the next time a pandemic strikes.

The federal government has a responsibility to learn from this terrible crisis.  Let’s develop the capacity needed here, at home, to protect our people while also doing what is right for American jobs.