Trump admin fumbles Pentagon offers to help with crisis

The Pentagon offered to send ventilators to civilian hospitals. The Trump administration reportedly failed to follow through.
This picture taken 26 December 2011 show
An aerial view of the Pentagon building in Washington on Dec. 26, 2011.AFP - Getty Images file
By Steve Benen

The U.S. Department of Defense is the largest organization on the planet, with an extraordinary capacity to address any number of challenges. And while the Pentagon can't defeat a virus, it does have supplies that can help the civilian population during crises.

With this in mind, CNN reported yesterday that the Defense Department offered two weeks ago to make available thousands of ventilators -- a critical health-care resource during the coronavirus pandemic -- but the Trump administration failed to follow through.

Despite having committed to transferring 2,000 ventilators in military stocks to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services to fight the coronavirus outbreak, the Pentagon has not shipped any of them because the agencies have not asked for them or provided a shipping location, the Pentagon's top logistics official said Tuesday.

The Pentagon needed to be told where to send the ventilators. The Department of Health and Human Services, at least as of Monday night, hadn't given any such directions.

An HHS official responded that the Pentagon's ventilators "require special training," which may be true, though given the desperate need for the equipment, it seems likely medical personnel would be highly motivated to get up to speed quickly.

CNN added that the Defense Department also made available its testing labs -- also for the civilian population -- though it "remains unclear" whether the administration has followed through on the offer.

Air Force Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Paul Friedrichs conceded at a press briefing this week, "We are not maxing our capacity in our labs around the world."

There's growing talk about creating an investigatory panel, along the lines of the 9/11 Commission, in order to examine what went wrong with the federal response to the coronavirus crisis and what could be done to prevent similar failures in the future.

Indeed, NBC News reported late yesterday, "Informal discussions have begun on Capitol Hill about the possibility of creating a panel to scrutinize the Trump administration's response to the coronavirus pandemic ... according to four people familiar with the discussions. They described the discussions as 'very preliminary' and involving mostly congressional Democrats."

By all appearances, such a panel would not lack for lines of inquiry.