“And the notion of the federal stockpile was it’s supposed to be our stockpile,” Kushner said. “It’s not supposed to be states’ stockpiles that they then use.”
As reporters quickly noted, that didn’t match with how the Department of Health and Human Services was describing the program. On its website, it said, “Strategic National Stockpile is the nation’s largest supply of life-saving pharmaceuticals and medical supplies for use in a public health emergency severe enough to cause local supplies to run out.” It continued to say, "When state, local, tribal, and territorial responders request federal assistance to support their response efforts, the stockpile ensures that the right medicines and supplies get to those who need them most during an emergency.”
That language suddenly disappeared from the site Friday morning, as journalist Laura Bassett noted, and was replaced with something de-emphasizing the size of the stockpile and its role in helping states. The new description cast it as a “short-term stopgap.”
“The Strategic National Stockpile’s role is to supplement state and local supplies during public health emergencies,” it now says. “Many states have products stockpiled, as well. The supplies, medicines, and devices for life-saving care contained in the stockpile can be used as a short-term stopgap buffer when the immediate supply of adequate amounts of these materials may not be immediately available.”
Here are images of the website before ...
... and after.
But similar versions of the old description still appear on other government websites and in previous reports about the purpose of the stockpile.
Another part of the HHS’s website offers a similar description as the original one above: “The SNS is designed to supplement and resupply state and local public health agencies in the event of a national emergency anywhere and at any time within the United States or its territories.”
The Strategic National Stockpile was formerly known as the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile. In a description of what was then known as the NPS in 2001, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledged that states couldn’t be counted on to have sufficient supplies in situations such as biological or chemical terrorism and that’s why the federal stockpile was needed.
“Few U.S. state or local governments have the resources to create sufficient pharmaceutical stockpiles on their own,” the report says. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, under U.S. Congressional mandate, has developed and implemented a National Pharmaceutical Stockpile (NPS) to address this need.”
In other words, the program was designed to supplement the states and deliver supplies to them that, according to this U.S. government document, they won’t have because of budgetary constraints.
The same document did say that the national stockpile “is not a first response tool — state and local first responders and health officials can use the NPS to bolster their response to a biological or chemical terrorism attack — thereby increasing their capacity to more rapidly mitigate the results of” outbreaks.
But it reemphasized that the states aren’t expected to have sufficient supplies.
“In a biological or chemical terrorism event, state, local, and private stocks of medical materiel will deplete quickly,” the report says.
This isn’t a terrorism event, but the scale is similar. And the very program that Kushner now suggests wasn’t meant to be for states was clearly intended to be.
Even shortly after Kushner made that claim Thursday evening, a Republican senator, Cory Gardner of Colorado, was sending a letter calling for an investigation of the national stockpile’s lack of functioning ventilators. Gardner made clear he expected the stockpile to be available for states’ use.
“The Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act (PAHPA) … includes clear expectations to ensure that the Department of Health and Human Services’ SNS procurement and maintenance decisions support the federal government’s ability to support states and localities in a public health emergency,” Gardner wrote.
Gardner added: “The SNS is a critical resource for states facing grave public health emergencies, and we must take every step to make sure that there is a robust supply of working medical supplies and equipment on hand.”
We’ll see if this is an argument the White House continues to make. President Trump has made a point of blaming others for the lack of medical supplies to combat the coronavirus, alternately pointing to states and to the previous administation. But it’s an awfully bizarre claim that the government is apparently now straining to justify.