That appears to be the case. The Los Angeles Times calls it “seizing,” but it amounts to the same thing as these are legal products that the government did not order. The White House and FEMA are swooping in to grab masks, thermometers, and other items in a secretive process with apparently little recourse.
These actions are abusive from a civil liberties perspective, and such command‐and‐control methods make no practical sense either. As I discuss here, here, and here, central planning is the wrong way to go for disaster planning and response, as it will make the nation less safe and resilient.
Los Angeles Times reporter Noam M. Levey describes what is going on:
Although President Trump has directed states and hospitals to secure what supplies they can, the federal government is quietly seizing orders, leaving medical providers across the country in the dark about where the material is going and how they can get what they need to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
Hospital and clinic officials in seven states described the seizures in interviews over the past week. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is not publicly reporting the acquisitions, despite the outlay of millions of dollars of taxpayer money, nor has the administration detailed how it decides which supplies to seize and where to reroute them.
Officials who’ve had materials seized also say they’ve received no guidance from the government about how or if they will get access to the supplies they ordered.
… In Florida, a large medical system saw an order for thermometers taken away. And officials at a system in Massachusetts were unable to determine where its order of masks went.
… PeaceHealth, a 10‐hospital system in Washington, Oregon and Alaska, had a shipment of testing supplies seized recently. “It’s incredibly frustrating,” said Richard DeCarlo, the system’s chief operating officer.
… In response to questions from The Times, a FEMA representative said the agency, working with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense, has developed a system for identifying needed supplies from vendors and distributing them equitably….But the agency has refused to provide any details about how these determinations are made or why it is choosing to seize some supply orders and not others.
… Hospital and health officials describe an opaque process in which federal officials sweep in without warning to expropriate supplies.
Jose Camacho, who heads the Texas Assn. of Community Health Centers, said his group was trying to purchase a small order of just 20,000 masks when his supplier reported that the order had been taken.
Camacho was flabbergasted. Several of his member clinics — which as primary care centers are supposed to alleviate pressure on overburdened hospitals — are struggling to stay open amid woeful shortages of protective equipment.
“Everyone says you are supposed to be on your own,” Camacho said, noting Trump’s repeated admonition that states and local health systems cannot rely on Washington for supplies. “Then to have this happen, you just sit there wondering what else you can do. You can’t fight the federal government.”
This article by Chris Edwards first appeared in CATO on April 4, 2020.