WASHINGTON, April 29 (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Democrats unveiled legislation on Wednesday requiring the Pentagon to name a civilian officer to oversee the nation’s supply and production of medical supplies and equipment needed to combat the spread of the new coronavirus.
The bill, dubbed the Medical Supply Transparency and Delivery Act, also calls for a comprehensive testing plan that would include viral and antibody testing, and a blueprint for scaling up production of an eventual vaccine for the new coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 respiratory disease.
Democrats, long frustrated by what they view as President Donald Trump’s unwillingness to seize control of the supply chain for personal protective equipment and testing, want the bill to be part of Congress’s next coronavirus legislation. A companion bill is also expected from Democrats in the House of Representatives.
The bill, backed by major unions including the AFL-CIO, surfaced as U.S. states moved to reopen the economy amid reports of supply and testing shortages that health experts warn could lead to a resurgence of coronavirus infections that have already killed more than 58,000 Americans.
“This White House has also not provided our states with all the essential resources and medical supplies we need to combat this pandemic and conduct widespread testing to identify those who are infected,” Senator Tammy Baldwin, one of the bill’s sponsors, said in a statement.
Baldwin announced the bill with fellow Democrats Senator Chris Murphy and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.
The lawmakers said the legislation would establish a more coherent national response by requiring the defense secretary to appoint a civilian executive officer charged with overseeing the production and distribution of COVID-19-related equipment and supplies. The officer would have all authorities available under the Defense Production Act.
The bill would also require the administration to produce weekly national assessments of equipment supplies, identify available stockpiles and industries capable of filling orders, post state requests for assistance and establish an inspector general to oversee implementation. (Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by David Gregorio)