“There is one person right now, Mr. Navarro, who is supposedly in charge of production. There’s another person, an admiral, who’s nominally responsible for distribution, but he told the media a few days ago he was ‘blind to where all the product is,’” Schumer said on a press call Friday morning. “So, we need one senior military officer who knows logistics, who knows command and control, to oversee both production and distribution.”
Bialos agreed, saying “we still don’t know who’s in charge,” and faulted the administration for not using the DPA to set up an industrial response team outside the White House sooner.
“I would have done this 3 weeks ago or a month ago” said Bialos, now a partner at Eversheds Sutherland. “It’s policy malpractice to not have clarity on who’s in charge, to not have a separate, interdisciplinary team on this.”
At the Thursday briefing, Polowczyk said the Trump administration was working closely with the private sector to obtain more ventilators.
In a normal year, U.S.-based manufacturers, such as General Electric and Vyaire Medical, produce about 30,000 ventilators. The U.S. government, with the help of car companies Ford and GM, hopes to increase production to 100,000 in just the next three months. However, production is expected to ramp up slowly, with a big burst of activity in June.
“We’re on line to receive several thousand ventilators in the month of April and several thousand more ventilators in the month of May, ramping up to a big number in June,” Polowczyk said.
Part of the challenge is making sure that companies have the parts that they need to make the ventilators, which are complex pieces of equipment. In addition, auto manufacturers also need time to retool production lines designed for other purposes.
Trump said Thursday he had issued directions for Azar and acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf to use any and all available authority under the DPA to ensure that domestic manufacturers have the supplies they need to produce ventilators for patients with severe cases.
“This action will help General Electric, Hillrom, Medtronic, ResMed, Royal Philips and Vyaire Medical overcome obstacles in the supply chain that threaten the rapid production of ventilators. We have over 100,000 being built right now, or soon to be started. We anticipate issuing more orders under the Defense Production Act in the very near future,” Trump said.
Each ventilator that GM intends to make requires 419 major parts and there are “literally thousands of sub-components that go into those 419 parts, especially given the complexity of several of the individual part designs,” said company spokesperson Jeannine Ginivan.
“Within 72 hours of the project beginning, our teams were able to source 100 percent of the necessary parts. It was an unprecedented effort on the part of GM’s supplier partners. Everyone rallied around a common goal — every ventilator is a life,” Ginivan said.
About 70 percent of the parts to make ventilators are manufactured in the United States and about 80 percent in the North American region. But another 20 percent need to be imported from countries that include France, Italy, South Korea, Thailand, U.K., Japan, China and Taiwan.
Regardless, GM expects its parts to arrive in time for mass production to begin in mid-April, Ginivan said.
Ford spokesperson Michael Levine said the company needs several more weeks because it does not yet have all the parts that it needs.
“We’re ramping up our own supply chain of parts to start producing the Model A-E ventilator by the end of this month,” Levine said.
The federal government is also working with the major health care equipment distributors to replenish depleted supplies and decide where they should be sent.
“We brought them all in, and we said we need to make informed decisions, and we are going to help make informed allocation decisions,” Polowczyk told reporters.
To accomplish that task, the senior logistics officer said he brought in a computer software tool the Defense Department had been using to manage a supply chain “for a very complex weapon system.” The companies’ supply chain information was put into a “data lake” that provides an overall picture of the situation, Polowczyk said.
“I can tell what product is coming in, what their orders are, what they’re filling, what they’re not filling, and see the volume in the supply chain, and understand what they’re doing down to the county level. We’re working to get it potentially down to the hospital level,” Polowczyk said.
He also defended the decision to distribute the supplies through those companies, rather than have the federal government hand out the goods.
“Look, these six distributors — six, seven — they have six to seven hundred warehouses. They have trucks to go to the hospital door every day. We’re bringing product in. They’re filling orders for hospitals, nursing homes like normal. I’m putting volume into that system,” Polowczyk said.
Doug Palmer contributed to this report.