The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Three House panels launch joint investigation into Pentagon’s coronavirus relief spending

The congressional investigation comes after The Washington Post reported that the Defense Department funneled coronavirus relief funds to defense contractors

Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) speaks during a hearing before the House select subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis on Oct. 2. (Michael A. McCoy/Pool/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

House Democrats are opening an investigation into the Defense Department’s decision to divert hundreds of millions of dollars in funds meant to build up the country’s medical supplies to defense contractors instead.

The investigation comes after The Washington Post reported last week that the Pentagon began funneling the funds to private companies building military supplies shortly after Congress set aside the money in the $2 trillion Cares Act in March.

Pentagon used taxpayer money meant for masks and swabs to make jet engine parts and body armor

Democratic Reps. James E. Clyburn (S.C.), Maxine Waters (Calif.), Carolyn B. Maloney (N.Y.) and Stephen F. Lynch (Mass.) wrote to Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper on Friday and said they were investigating whether his agency “inappropriately used hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars appropriated by Congress.” The investigation will be carried out by the House Oversight and Reform Committee, the Financial Services Committee, and the select subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis

“As Congress considers additional coronavirus relief legislation, Americans deserve to know that the Trump Administration is following the law and using relief funds for their intended purpose — to aid the nationwide pandemic response,” the lawmakers wrote.

Congress provided the Pentagon with $1 billion in March to “prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus” under the Defense Production Act (DPA), which allows the government to compel U.S. companies to manufacture products in the nation’s interest. Although the Pentagon did spend some of the money on masks and swabs, $688 million was ultimately allocated toward the defense industrial base, mostly for projects that have little to do with the coronavirus response.

The administration has defended its spending decisions, saying the Cares Act did not limit how it could spend DPA-related funds, that it had been fully transparent with Congress and that it had spent the money “to support vital national security industries that were devastated by COVID.”

But the Post’s reporting prompted sharp criticism from Democrats and calls for investigations.

In their Friday letter, the House members requested documents and information on each of the contracts awarded using the relief funds, and on the original decision to use the relief funding to support defense contractors.

A Pentagon spokeswoman, Jessica Maxwell, said the agency had been transparent with lawmakers.

“DOD has done exactly what Congress asked us to do: support American workers, jobs and businesses suffering due to COVID,” she said.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot. New federal data shows adults who received the updated shots cut their risk of being hospitalized with covid-19 by 50 percent. Here’s guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

New covid variant: The XBB.1.5 variant is a highly transmissible descendant of omicron that is now estimated to cause about half of new infections in the country. We answered some frequently asked questions about the bivalent booster shots.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people. Nearly nine out of 10 covid deaths are people over the age 65.

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