The news has ignited widespread criticism from lawmakers and members of the public, leading to a call for an investigation and public hearings by two House Democrats.
One billion dollars in taxpayer money alloted to the Pentagon in March to build up the country’s supplies of medical equipment was instead funneled to defense contractors and used to make things like jet engine parts, body armor, and dress uniforms, reports The Washington Post. News that the money — which was meant to provide funding through the Defense Production Act to produce Coronavirus medical supplies — was diverted toward patching up long-standing perceived gaps in military supplies, ignited widespread criticism from lawmakers and members of the public, leading to a call for an investigation and public hearings by two House Democrats.
JUST IN: The Pentagon reportedly redirected most of its $1 billion in pandemic funding to defense contractors — who exchanged the money for jet engine parts, body armor and other military supplies. https://t.co/M5I4aL5ngt— The Hill (@thehill) September 22, 2020
According to the shocking report, the Cares Act — which was passed by Congress earlier this year — gave the Pentagon money to "prevent, prepare for, and respond to Coronavirus." However, within a few weeks, the Defense Department reportedly began reassessing how it would spend the money, in a manner that wasn't in line with the Congress' intention. "This is part and parcel of whether we have budget priorities that actually serve our public safety or whether we have a government that is captured by special interests," said Mandy Smithberger, a defense analyst at the watchdog group, Project on Government Oversight.
A $1 billion fund Congress gave the Pentagon to “fight, prepare for and respond to COVID” was repurposed as a bailout for defense contractors. The pandemic money was spent on dress uniforms, engine parts, body armor, and drone tech. W/ @yjtorbati https://t.co/NiEbMf6aik— Aaron Gregg (@Post_AG) September 22, 2020
After reviewing public records, individual contract announcements, congressional testimony, and interviewing individuals involved in the spending decisions, the publication found that $183 million from the fund had been awarded to firms including Rolls-Royce and ArcelorMittal to maintain the shipbuilding industry while tens of millions of dollars were spent for satellite, drone, and space surveillance technology. Furthermore, $80 million was awarded to a Kansas aircraft parts business and $2 million to a domestic manufacturer of Army dress uniform fabric. While the Pentagon on Tuesday defended its actions, the Democratic-controlled House Committee on Appropriations has made clear that the Defense Department's decision went against its intent in that section of the Cares Act.
"The Committee's expectation was that the Department would address the need for PPE industrial capacity rather than execute the funding for the [defense industrial base]," the committee wrote in its report on the 2021 defense bill. According to The Hill, the Pentagon claimed that the CARES Act "set forth no limitation requiring use only in the medical supply industrial base." A defense official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations revealed that the decision to divert the funds was made in consultation with the White House Office of Management and Budget, as well as other federal agencies.
The Pentagon Got $1 Billion to Fight Coronavirus. It Went Shopping for Military Equipment Instead. https://t.co/2JJRYjRden— Jeffrey Levin (@jilevin) September 22, 2020
Meanwhile, Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) have now called for a formal investigation reviewing the legality of the Defense Department's move. "For the Administration to choose to use funds Congress made available to fight COVID-19 on the wish lists of defense contractors, instead of first protecting troops and the general public from the spread of the Coronavirus, is unconscionable and should be investigated fully and prosecuted if warranted," the two Democrats wrote in a letter to the House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis, House Oversight and Reform Committee and the House Armed Services Committee.
The Pentagon reportedly used most of a $1 billion fund of taxpayer money to purchase jet engine parts, body armor and uniforms instead of the intended #COVID19 medical supplies, reports @washingtonpost.— AJ+ (@ajplus) September 22, 2020
Over 200,000 people in the U.S. have died of the coronavirus. pic.twitter.com/DQr6i199El
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith released his own statement regarding the issue on Tuesday, saying that the decision to repurpose funds shows how the Trump administration "continues to exploit the trust of the American people." Smith, whose committee position would have put him in close contact with the Defense Department as it developed its spending plans, added: "Instead of focusing on a clear, coordinated strategy to produce and acquire the medical supplies necessary to respond to the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis, the Trump Administration carved up this billion-dollar appropriation and spent three dollars on defense contracts for every dollar it spent on acquiring health resources."