The COVID-19 pandemic calls for the most urgent possible action
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We must act both quickly, to save as many lives as possible, and strategically, to control the virus in the months ahead. The president has no better tool to confront an emergency of this magnitude than the Defense Production Act of 1950 (DPA). Similar legislation in the early 1940s allowed FDR to marshal the productive capacity of American business to create the Arsenal of Democracy and win World War II. Now, it’s time to deploy this essential tool in the war against COVID-19.

We need to ramp up resources in three areas necessary to beat this virus: testing; personal protective equipment; and treatment. First, we must identify all the equipment, machinery, materials and pharmaceuticals we need, item by item, everything from cotton swabs to ventilators. How many do we need? When do we need them? Where will we need them, in current hot spots and going forward?

Once we know what we need, we reach our second step: procurement. We must match the demand we identified with supply—and we can’t be stingy. We have learned the hard way that we should have had much greater stores in our Strategic National Stockpile.

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Given the lack of a coordinated national response so far, governors, mayors, and hospital systems have been scrambling to identify sources of items they desperately need. States have been bidding against states, and many have ended up with nothing. As an individual member of Congress, I, too, am spending a significant amount of time trying to connect vendors and suppliers with procurement officials at the state and federal levels.

This kind of duplication is inefficient, creates upward price pressure, and wastes precious time. It is also utterly unnecessary: through the DPA, the president can identify all domestic and foreign sources of the items we need, obtain contracts for immediate and future delivery, and determine where gaps remain.

That leads to the third step: production. Whatever we lack, let’s start making it right away! I have been overwhelmed by the interest of American companies to step into the breach and make everything from hand sanitizer to ventilators. Through the DPA, the president can offer guaranteed contracts to businesses to make what we need right here in the U.S.A.

This is not nationalizing business—it’s paying them to do what they do. And while we’re at it, we should not be haggling with companies to make items on the cheap. After all, aren’t we trying to keep American businesses and workers afloat? Set a fair price that allows workers to be paid what they deserve and companies to make a modest return, and get on with it!

Finally, there is the question of distribution. Hospitals are filling to capacity without the supplies they need. Only the federal government can assemble uniform data and rush supplies where they are needed. Again, the DPA provides authority for this vital effort.

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In order to make this work, we need transparency and accountability. In a crisis, reliable information allows all actors to plan and builds public confidence. Even now, we don’t have numbers on something so basic as how many COVID-19 tests we are performing. This must change if we are to mount a national effort everyone can trust.

And then there’s accountability. On Friday, the president announced that his White House advisor Peter Navarro would head up DPA coordination. On Sunday, I spoke with Rear Admiral John Polowczyk, who recently took charge of the Supply Chain Stabilization Task Force at FEMA and is conducting work related to the DPA. To my dismay, it became clear that neither he nor Navarro will report to the other.

I prefer not to use war analogies, but I’m at a loss here. We are facing the greatest public health crisis in a century. We need a single chain of command with a direct line to the president. Right now.

We need a WWII-level assault on COVID-19. In our moment of need, nothing less will do.

Andy LevinAndrew (Andy) LevinUS, Mexico set for new post-NAFTA trade era House members race to prepare for first-ever remote votes Warren, Levin introduce legislation for federal contact tracing program MORE represents Michigan’s 9th District in Congress, where he serves as vice chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.