House panel probes 'problematic' government contracts for COVID-19 supplies

House panel probes 'problematic' government contracts for COVID-19 supplies
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House Democrats are asking Trump officials to explain contracts for personal protective equipment, testing supplies and other materials that they say went to companies with political ties to the administration or that were unprepared to fill the orders.

“Recent reports indicate that federal agencies awarded contracts to businesses that had political connections to the Trump Administration, lacked federal contracting experience, and had been selected by the White House without competition or transparency,” Democrats on the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis wrote in a letter to administration officials Wednesday.

“Some of these companies failed to provide the supplies promised,” they added. “The Select Subcommittee is concerned that these contracting practices may have wasted taxpayer dollars and exacerbated shortages of critical supplies, contributing to the spread of the coronavirus and the death of Americans.”

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The letter points to a May article from ProPublica, which reported that Zach Fuentes, a former aide to President TrumpDonald John TrumpOklahoma City Thunder players kneel during anthem despite threat from GOP state lawmaker Microsoft moving forward with talks to buy TikTok after conversation with Trump Controversial Trump nominee placed in senior role after nomination hearing canceled MORE, was awarded a $3 million contract for respirator masks for the Navajo Nation just 11 days after founding a company. Some of the masks were unsuitable for medical use, the report said.

Fuentes told ProPublica that political connections played no role in his company’s selection.

The congressional letter also points to a separate ProPublica report, which found that the administration gave $7.3 million to a company called Fillakit for test tubes, but instead received plastic tubes made for bottling soda that were unusable.

The company’s owner acknowledged to ProPublica that the tubes were usually used for soda but declined to comment further.

Democrats on the committee, led by Chairman James Clyburn (S.C.), said the contracting practices could be “contributing to shortages” of protective equipment and other supplies, if contracts are going to unqualified companies unable to properly fill the orders.

The subcommittee is asking the administration for details on the contracts and communications around them by July 28.