FEMA and HHS Officials Acknowledge Shortages of Protective Equipment and Testing

Apr 28, 2020
Press Release
Admissions Contradict President’s Claims of Adequate Supplies and Tests to Reopen Country

Washington, D.C. (Apr. 28, 2020)—Today, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, the Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, issued the following statement after officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) acknowledged in congressional briefings that states continue to face shortages of personal protective equipment and coronavirus testing supplies: 

“For weeks, President Trump has been claiming that states have enough personal protective equipment and testing to begin reopening the economy—even as tens of thousands of Americans have died, and governors, mayors, and frontline health care workers have pleaded for more supplies and assistance.  During several recent briefings, officials from FEMA and HHS directly contradicted President Trump’s claims, admitting that we do not have enough tests or protective equipment and that critical shortages are likely to continue.  The President’s failed response to the coronavirus crisis has already caused untold suffering and chaos.  He needs to start being honest with the American people and come up with a nationwide plan to get the resources we need to prevent more Americans from dying.”

These briefings were provided on April 21 and April 28, 2020, by FEMA’s Deputy Associate Administrator for Response and Recovery, David Bibo; FEMA’s Associate Administrator for Policy, Program Analysis and International Affairs Joel Doolin; Colonel Eric Schwartz of the FEMA supply chain task force; and Dr. Carl Newman of the Department of Health and Human Services. 

Overall Assessment

  • During the April 21 briefing, Mr. Bibo explained that for PPE, pharmaceuticals, and testing supplies, “demand still outstrips supply considerably.”  He added, “we continue every day to receive specific areas that are going to be out within 48 hours or 72 hours.”
     
  • As a result, Mr. Bibo explained that the Administration has been analyzing private sector sales data to determine whether an urgent request is a “bona fide requirement.” 
     
  • Mr. Bibo conceded “that is not going to be the way to run a railroad in the long run.”  

Shortages of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

  • On April 21, Colonel Schwartz stated that for PPE, “supply and demand are not balanced at all.”  He stated that shortfalls are likely to continue and that the “supply chain alone can’t fix it.”  He warned that we will continue to have to prioritize among urgent needs and preserve and reuse protective equipment.
     
  • On April 23, in a written update to Members of Congress, FEMA acknowledged, “Industries whose essential critical infrastructure workers need PPE to perform their duties should continue working with suppliers to acquire needed PPE, but should expect shortages to continue.”
     
  • On April 28, Mr. Bibo stated, “what we know is that while things are improving, there is still more demand than there is supply, especially for particular pieces of PPE.”  He said FEMA has “open resource requests” from “many of our regions” seeking a “range of personal protective equipment.”  He identified medical gowns as an item with a particularly acute shortage. 

Shortages of Testing Supplies

  • On April 21, when asked about the need for testing and available supply, Dr. Newman said, “I cannot promise a satisfactory answer.”  He said there “needs to be more than one strategy for testing,” including both diagnostic nucleic acid testing and serology testing, which tests for past exposure.  He added that we are “in no danger” of having enough nucleic acid tests for everyone who needs one. 
     
  • On April 28, Dr. Newman stated that he had calls with at least a dozen state governments about their “perceived requirements” for testing and that they have “recurring” concerns about “access to swabs” and “access to reagents” needed to conduct testing.  He said while some states had realistic testing plans, others had plans that were more “ambitious” and “might need to be more incremental than immediate.”  Mr. Bibo described the lack of swabs and other testing supplies as “limiting factors” that are hindering testing capacity in states. 

Lack of National Strategy for Testing and PPE to Reopen Economy

  • On April 28, Dr. Newman said the Administration is “going to be working with the states” to support the states’ strategies to “meet their testing goals” and provide “technical assistance.” 
     
  • On April 28, Mr. Bibo said the Administration was still trying to develop “some sort of estimate” of the country’s need for PPE in the coming months, but he said the issue is complicated so they “need to be cautious not to rush it.”
     
  • Administration briefers had no response when Members pressed them on the lack of a national testing strategy and noted that President’s Trump’s new testing plan generally defers to the states.

These admissions contradict repeated claims from President Trump that the United States has sufficient personal protective equipment and testing.  For example:

  • On April 10, President Trump said:  “And we’re in great shape in every way.  We’re in great shape with ventilators.  We’re in great shape with protective clothing.  We have additional planeloads coming in.  But we’re not getting any calls from governors at this moment.  …  We’re getting—we’re getting very few calls from governors or anybody else needing anything.  They’re in great shape for this surge that’s coming in certain areas in particular, and that’s a good job.”
     
  • On April 17, President Trump claimed:  “As you’ll hear from our experts today, we’ve already built sufficient testing capacity nationwide for states to begin their reopenings.”
     
  • On April 18, the President said:  “We had very little in our stockpile.  Now we’re loaded up.  And we also loaded up these hospitals.”
     
  • On April 23, the President stated:  “Again, testing—we’re doing very well on testing.  We’ve tested far more than anybody else anywhere in the world.” 
     
  • On April 27, the President stated:  “And the testing is not going to be a problem at all.  In fact, it’s going to be one of the great assets that we have.”  He also stated:  “So we’re dealing with the governors.  We had a really great call today, as I told you.  Very, very solid.  These are—these were not complaining people.  These were people that were—they had everything they needed.  They had their ventilators. They have their testing.”

The Oversight Committee has been investigating the Administration’s coronavirus response for many weeks:

  • On March 11-12, the Committee held a hearing on the Administration’s coronavirus response.  The hearing confirmed that the Trump Administration’s testing for coronavirus has been severely inadequate, plagued by missteps, and resulted in substantial deficiencies in our ability to determine who may be infected.  FEMA declined to participate, asserting that “the Agency does not feel as if there is much that we would be able to testify to.”  President Trump declared a national emergency the following day.
     
  • On March 19, the Committee sent a letter to HHS and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention seeking a copy of the Trump Administration’s plan for producing, distributing, and conducting coronavirus testing across the country.
     
  • On March 20, the Committee held a briefing with FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor, who stated that FEMA had only been “at this for 48 hours.”  During that briefing, another FEMA official stated that Administrator Gaynor had not been invited to the join the White House coronavirus task force until earlier that week, and Administrator Gaynor stated that FEMA did not host its first “interagency synchronization call” until earlier that day.
     
  • On March 21, the Committee sent a letter to HHS expressing grave concerns about widespread shortages of personal protective equipment, severe shortfalls with ventilators and other critical medical equipment, and a dangerous lack of hospital bed capacity.
     
  • On April 2, the Committee released new documents from FEMA showing critical shortages of protective equipment and medical supplies. 
     
  • On April 8, the Committee released a new document from HHS showing the depletion of the national stockpile of protective equipment for states and the inadequate distribution of personal protective equipment and medical supplies.
Issues: 
116th Congress