Pentagon Diverted $1 Billion From COVID-19 Fund to Buy Faster Jets, Drones and Dress Uniforms

On the day when the official U.S. death toll from the coronavirus topped 200,000 and a nationwide shortage of N95 face masks persists, it was reported today that the Pentagon has diverted almost $1 billion in COVID-19 response funds to purchase jet engine parts, body armor, drones and dress uniforms.

Congress appropriated the money to the Pentagon in March through the Cares Act, to “prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus.” But 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.

Among the expenditures: $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.

The $1 billion fund had been allocated under the Defense Production Act, which allows the president to compel U.S. companies to manufacture products in the nation’s interest. Trump has claimed he has “used the DPA more comprehensively than any president in history,” yet he has refused to invoke the act to compel the manufacture of the medical-grade N95 masks or other supplies.

“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 Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group.

Emily Porter, M.D., sister of Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.), had a more blunt assessment of the disclosure:

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