In March, shortly after coronavirus arrived in the United States, Congress allocated $1 billion for the Pentagon. The money was supposed to be used to build up U.S. supplies of medical equipment such as protective masks, gloves, and test swabs. But, according to a report from The Washington Post, the Department of Defense funneled the money to defense contractors who made jet engine parts and dress uniforms:

“The payments were made even though U.S. health officials believe there are still major funding gaps in responding to the pandemic. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in Senate testimony last week that states desperately need $6 billion to distribute vaccines to Americans early next year. There remains a severe shortage of N95 masks at numerous U.S. hospitals. These are the types of problems that the money was originally intended to address.”

Even more galling is the fact that some defense contractors were given the Pentagon funds meant to control COVID-19 despite having already taken large sums of taxpayer money from the Paycheck Protection Program.

How did this happen? The Pentagon simply changed the rules once they got the money from Congress:

“In the months after the stimulus package was passed, the Pentagon changed how the money would be used. It decided to give defense contractors hundreds of millions of dollars from the fund, mostly for projects that have little to do with the coronavirus response. Defense Department lawyers quickly determined that the funds could be used for defense production, a conclusion that Congress later disputed.”

The amount of Defense Department money given to some contractors is simply staggering, The Post notes:

    • $183 million to firms including Rolls-Royce and ArcelorMittal to maintain the shipbuilding industry
    • $80 million to a Kansas aircraft parts business suffering from the Boeing 737 Max grounding and the global slowdown in air travel
    • $2 million for a domestic manufacturer of Army dress uniform fabric

As you would expect, many in Congress are less than thrilled about how the $1 billion was used, with the House Committee on Appropriations noting in its report on the 2021 defense bill:

“The Committee’s expectation was that the Department would address the need for PPE industrial capacity rather than execute the funding for the DIB (defense industrial base).”

The U.S. death toll from coronavirus has now reached over 200,000, with thousands of new infections each day. With the flu season beginning, the country is facing even more carnage. And now we have to worry that we may not have enough protective equipment for the front-line medical workers who will be trying to save those who contract the virus.

Featured Image Via NBC News