Report: FEMA Has Delivered Just a Fraction of the Medical Supplies Md. Needs

A medical professional prepares to screen people last month at a COVID-19 testing station in the parking lot of FedEx Field in Landover. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A congressional committee released a report Thursday showing that Maryland and other Mid-Atlantic states are receiving only a fraction of the personal protective gear and critical medical supplies they have requested from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee issued a report looking at the supply requests five Mid-Atlantic states and the District of Columbia have made in recent weeks of the national stockpile of emergency medical supplies, which FEMA controls, and the federal government’s ability to meet them.

The numbers are stark and confirm Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s assertion earlier this week on a national TV interview that no state has the medical supplies they need to meet the public health crisis.

According to the House committee report, as of March 30, Maryland had received just one-third of the 181,595 face shields, one-third of the 421,532 respirator masks and one-third of the 778,129 surgical masks it requested from FEMA, along with about 40% of the 330,540 gloves. The state did not receive any of the 15,000 body bags it sought, or any of the 100,000 surgical gowns, or any of the 100,000 swabs used to conduct COVID-19 tests.

“The Administration’s failure to take this pandemic seriously from the onset will cost American lives,” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said in a statement. “…Forcing our medical personnel on the front lines of this crisis to perform their duties without the necessary safety equipment is a travesty.”

Specifically, the House committee looked at supply requests that the states made of FEMA’s Region III office, which covers Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Washington, D.C. Lawmakers on the panel also interrogated FEMA leaders and other federal officials this week in teleconferences.

In addition to releasing the figures on supply and demand, the committee found:

— That demand for ventilators are already outstripping capacity and that shortages are expected to worsen.

— That the Trump administration is asking doctors and nurses to re-use personal protective equipment, despite the known risks.

— That FEMA is refusing to take a more active role in locating and delivering critical supplies.

House Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) — who took over the panel following the death in October of Maryland Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D) — said the report conclusions “confirm the urgent warnings we have been hearing from our nation’s governors and health care professionals for weeks.”

“The President must act immediately to take all steps within his authority to get personal protective equipment and medical supplies to our nation’s frontline responders who are risking everything to save their fellow Americans,” Maloney said.

In response to the report, all nine members of Maryland’s congressional delegation wrote Thursday to MaryAnn Tierney, FEMA’s Region III director, in support of the state’s “urgent request” for more supplies. They also seek federal approval for a crisis counseling funding.

“Crisis counseling seeks to prevent the onset of diagnosable disorders by helping survivors understand that they are experiencing common reactions to extraordinary occurrences,” the lawmakers write. “Counselors help enhance social and emotional connections to others in the community and promote effective coping strategies and resilience.”

In a related development, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced plans Thursday to form a new committee charged with overseeing the more than $2 trillion the federal government is spending in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis will consist of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, Pelosi said, and will be chaired by House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.).

“We face a deadly virus and a battered economy with millions of Americans suddenly out of work,” Pelosi said in a letter to her colleagues. “Congress has taken an important step in meeting this crisis by passing three bills with over $2 trillion in emergency relief. We need to ensure those tax dollars are spent carefully and effectively.”

Pelosi pointed to the work of an oversight committee led by-then Sen. Harry Truman (D-Mo.) in March 1941, during World War II. The United States hadn’t yet entered the war, but Congress had appropriated billions of dollars to build up the nation’s defenses.

“I knew that after the First World War there’d been a hundred and sixteen investigating committees after the fact, and I felt that one committee before the fact would prevent a lot of waste and maybe even save some lives, and that’s the way it worked out,” Pelosi quoted Truman saying.

“The Truman Committee turned into a tremendous investment for taxpayers,” she said. “Its total cost was less than $1 million and it saved lives and nearly $15 billion by preventing fraud, waste and abuse.”

Truman led the Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program (also known as the Truman Committee) from 1941 until 1944, when he was nominated to be President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s running mate. Maryland Sen. Herbert O’Conor (D) served on the panel.

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Josh Kurtz
Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.
Robin Bravender
Robin Bravender is the Newsroom's Washington bureau chief. She has previously reported for E&E News, Politico and Reuters TV.