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What You Should Know About The Defense Production Act

When Faulkner Plastics was forced to scale down its operations due to the new coronavirus pandemic, the factory repurposed production and began making face shields used by medical workers to help with the medical supply shortage. The factory sells to local hospitals and individuals, and is working 24 hours a day to meet the demand. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
When Faulkner Plastics was forced to scale down its operations due to the new coronavirus pandemic, the factory repurposed production and began making face shields used by medical workers to help with the medical supply shortage. The factory sells to local hospitals and individuals, and is working 24 hours a day to meet the demand. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

An in-depth look at the Defense Production Act. We discuss its history, purpose and how the Trump administration is and isn’t using it now.

Guests

Margaret O’Mara, history professor at the University of Washington. She worked for the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services in the Clinton Administration. Author of “ The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America.” ( @margaretomara)

Steve Vladeck, law professor at the University of Texas School of Law. Expert on constitutional law, national security law and federal jurisdiction. ( @steve_vladeck)

From The Reading List

The New York Times: “ America Is at War, and There’s Only One Enemy” — “The United States can and should “go big” to fight the coronavirus. It has done so before, at extraordinary speed and scale. It has tools like the Defense Production Act to help do it again. And it can be transformative: The industrial mobilization during World War II had a military purpose but lasting economic and social effects, helping build the foundation for a remarkable era of postwar prosperity. To get it right, we must understand how it worked, where it fell short and what the nation needs to mobilize again.”

Statement from the White House: “ Statement from the President Regarding the Defense Production Act” — “America is at war against an invisible enemy. Unfortunately, the outbreak of the virus has led to wartime profiteering by unscrupulous brokers, distributors, and other intermediaries operating in secondary markets. This wartime profiteering is leading to hoarding and soaring prices for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) like masks, gloves, and N-95 respirators, all of which are needed to protect American citizens, including our heroic healthcare professionals, battling on the front lines.”

The Atlantic: “ How to Actually Use the Defense Production Act” — “As nurses sew their own face masks, hospitals ration tests and split ventilators, and ventilator drugs dwindle nationwide, a desperate America has zeroed in on the promises of the Defense Production Act, the Korean War–era statute that empowers the federal government to ramp up the manufacturing and distribution of badly needed medical supplies. Deploying the DPA to combat COVID-19 is a no-brainer, but using it effectively is not a matter of turning it ‘on,’ like a faucet or a light switch. The nature and scale of the crisis dictate otherwise.”

Wired: “ The Defense Production Act Won’t Fix America’s Mask Shortage” — “The metastasizing coronavirus outbreak in the United States has left health care providers and government officials facing a humbling reality as they scramble to procure medical gear that is key to containing the pandemic: On the global market for medical gear, America is just another buyer on a long list.”

The State-Journal Register: “ Pritzker rips Trump over defense production act; 31 new deaths in Illinois” — “Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker again had words for President Donald Trump Sunday over management of the federal stockpiles of COVID-19 supplies and the lack of a defense production act.”

The New York Times: “ Wartime Production Law Has Been Used Routinely, but Not With Coronavirus” — “Chemicals used to construct military missiles. Materials needed to build drones. Body armor for agents patrolling the southwest border. Equipment for natural disaster response.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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