7

Quoting The Washington Post (emphasis mine, under the headline "Pentagon will seek production of 39 million N95 masks"):

Lt. Col. Mike Andrews, a Pentagon spokesman, said the agency received approval from the White House coronavirus task force on Friday night to use the powers under the Defense Production Act to spur the production. It is the Pentagon’s first project under the DPA in response to the pandemic, Andrews said.

The DPA is a 1950s law giving the federal government the power to compel companies to prioritize projects in the national interest. Trump has invoked it several times in recent weeks to push domestic manufacturers to make ventilators and masks. But he has faced criticism from many Democrats who have argued he waited too long to use the presidential power and should be using it more.

The two statements in bold can't both be true, and to the best of my knowledge only the first is, but I'm open to the idea that it might be related to some information bubble I'm living in.

Which of the two statements is correct?

  • 1
    A project under an order seems different than the order itself, to me. – fredsbend Apr 11 at 20:00
  • 1
    I can see your confusion but I almost downvoted this because "invoke" is not necessarily the same as "use" and both actually can mean "mentioned on Twitter" rather than using or invoking in an official context/capacity. Analogy: if I hold a baseball bat on my shoulder and tell you to do something, am I "invoking" or "using" my bat? – Fizz Apr 12 at 3:26
  • Although in this case Trump used/invoked the DPA threat in more official WH communications, see also the effect of his mere tweets in the past vox.com/policy-and-politics/2019/9/9/20857451/… – Fizz Apr 12 at 3:40
  • "The two statements in bold can't both be true" why not? The first refers to the Pentagon's first use, the second refers to the President's invocation. – Hasse1987 Apr 12 at 6:41
5

The first statement is completely true, and the second could be true depending on what the authors of the article meant by 'invoked'.

As can be found on the U.S. Department of Defense press release page, the DOD's first use of the Defense Production Act occurred on April 10th, and is what was meant by "It is the Pentagon’s first project under the DPA in response to the pandemic":

First DOD Defense Production Act Title 3 COVID-19 Project

APRIL 11, 2020

Statement attributed to Lt. Col. Mike Andrews, Department of Defense spokesman:

First DoD Defense Production Act Title 3 COVID-19 project:

$133 million investment will increase U.S. domestic N95 mask production by over 39 million over the next 90 days

"On the evening of April 10, the Department of Defense received approval from the White House Task Force to execute the first DPA Title 3 project responding to COVID-19.

As for the second statement, in the most literal sense the DPA was first used by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on April 8th, which was a contract with General Motors to produce ventilators:

This week, the Department of Health and Human Services announced the first contract for ventilator production rated under the Defense Production Act, to General Motors. GM’s contract, at a total contract price of $489.4 million, is for 30,000 ventilators to be delivered to the Strategic National Stockpile by the end of August 2020, with a production schedule allowing for the delivery of 6,132 ventilators by June 1, 2020. The rating of this contract under the DPA follows President Trump’s direction to HHS Secretary Alex Azar to invoke the Defense Production Act with regard to GM’s production of ventilators on March 27.

This invocation would only have been a few days before the Department of Defense's use of the DPA, so saying "Trump has invoked it several times in recent weeks" isn't true if the authors of the article are saying "invoked" to mean actually using the DPA to force companies to prioritize their contracts.

However, and this is getting into semantics but I want to cover all possibilities, the authors of the article could have meant "invoked" as just "appealed to", i.e. threatening to use the DPA to convince companies to prioritize contracts for critical supplies without actually using the provisions of the act to require them to. Trump has repeatedly talked about using the DPA since signing an executive order on March 18th which gave Alex Azar, his Secretary of Health and Human Services, the ability to use the DPA to place orders for critical medical resources. In this case, the second statement would be true, though as I said this is just up to interpretation of the author's wording so it's hard to say for sure if this is what they meant.

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2

A previous use of the act did not involve the pentagon, but instead was through FEMA:

https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/memorandum-order-defense-production-act-regarding-3m-company/

Before that, a use involved Health and Human Services. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/statement-president-regarding-defense-production-act/

See also this April 3rd memo that involved both FEMA and HHS: https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/memorandum-allocating-certain-scarce-threatened-health-medical-resources-domestic-use/

So answer to title question is “yes”.

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