The Slatest

The Pentagon Got $1 Billion to Fight Coronavirus. It Went Shopping for Military Equipment Instead.

Hospital bed booths at the Javits Convention Center in New York City, which the military temporarily turned into a hospital to help fight coronavirus cases.
Hospital bed booths at the Javits Convention Center in New York City, which the military temporarily turned into a hospital to help fight coronavirus cases. Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

In March, as the number of coronavirus infections was escalating, Congress passed the $3 trillion CARES Act, which, among other things, provided the Pentagon $1 billion in emergency funding to “prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus.” The billion-dollar fund was, in fact, allocated under the Defense Production Act, which allows the president to compel private companies to assist in producing items deemed to be essential to the national interest. Presumably, the Department of Defense would use that money to help procure medical supplies as was the intent of the funding. That is, the U.S. military was charged with assisting the teetering nation in fulfilling its most dire—life and death—medical needs: hospitals, masks, ventilators, and, ultimately, a vaccine.

After the stimulus money was out the door, however, the military repurposed it, the Washington Post reports, instead using the taxpayer money to make up for what it considered to be funding gaps on its own wish list, procuring equipment that had little to nothing to do with the pandemic. This also involved funneling hundreds of millions of dollars to defense contractors for items that Defense Department lawyers contended could still be shoehorned into the very broad spending rules attached to the funds. Congress later disputed that interpretation of the law.

From the Post:

Among the awards: $183 million to firms including Rolls-Royce and ArcelorMittal to maintain the shipbuilding industry; tens of millions of dollars for satellite, drone and space surveillance technology; $80 million to a Kansas aircraft parts business suffering from the Boeing 737 Max grounding and the global slowdown in air travel; and $2 million for a domestic manufacturer of Army dress uniform fabric.

That doesn’t exactly sound like PPE. “DOD officials contend that they have sought to strike a balance between boosting American medical production and supporting the defense industry, whose health they view as critical to national security,” the Post reports. “Some defense contractors were given the Pentagon money even though they had already dipped into another pot of bailout funds, the Paycheck Protection Program.” In short: a colossal backdoor bailout for the defense industry.