California lawmakers press governor for details on $1B mask deal

California lawmakers press governor for details on $1B mask deal
© Getty

Several California lawmakers are pressing Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin NewsomBiden rolls dice by getting more aggressive on vaccines California Democrats warn of low turnout in recall election Western governors ask Biden for aid on wildfires MORE (D) for details on the nearly $1 billion deal for the state to receive medical masks.

The governor about two weeks ago announced a contract with Chinese electric car manufacturer BYD to purchase masks needed during the coronavirus pandemic. But Newsom’s office has released few details about the agreement, even though the state has already wired $495 million to BYD, the Los Angeles Times reported

The deal involves BYD developing 200 million masks a month, including 150 million N95 masks and 50 million surgical masks, for the state to distribute to hospitals and health professionals.    

ADVERTISEMENT

Lawmakers have expressed concerns about the lack of information on the deal that the administration requested money for before allowing lawmakers to review the contract. 

State Sen. Jim Nielsen (R) told The Hill that the situation is a “concern” as the lawmakers delegated “a lot of money” for coronavirus response. 

He said without the contract, lawmakers do not know what assurances the company provided to ensure that the masks will arrive in a timely manner and be functional, as well as what sanctions BYD will face if it doesn’t deliver.

“The legislature does have budget authority and oversight authority, and it’s really important that we know that an acquisition of this magnitude is open, and we’re knowledgeable about it,” he said. 

The state’s Joint Legislative Budget Committee submitted a letter to California’s executive branch on April 9 requesting the “full details” of the agreement, including the price per mask, the quality the masks are required to meet, and the production and delivery timelines. 

Some legislators have also cited the company’s reported history of selling defective products as a reason for unease. 

ADVERTISEMENT

BYD does not have a history of making medical protective gear, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. The company announced on March 13 that it had developed the “world’s largest mass-produced face masks plant.” 

In his Saturday press conference, Newsom said the contract with the company is “locked,” and the details will be public “very, very shortly.” He added that he stands by his administration’s previous comments that there are concerns that revealing information about the contract could put the deal in “peril.”  

“The contracts are secured, but we want to make sure we secure the product,” he said. “We want to save lives, and we want to do so in the immediate term.”

When asked whether the concerns revolve around the mask shipment getting snatched by someone else, Newsom responded, “This is the wild, wild west.”

BYD spokesman Frank Girardot deferred comment on the agreement to the governor’s office, which pointed to Newsom’s remarks at the Saturday briefing. 

On April 13, three days after the $495 million payment, Mark Ghilarducci, the governor’s director of emergency services, initially said the details could not be released because they were still in the “negotiation phases,” according to the Times. 

But three days later, Christina Curry, the deputy director of emergency services, did not supply state senators with the specifics of the contract in a hearing, saying it could endanger the deal and allow another government to obtain the masks.