President Trump Faces Pressure To Invoke Cold War-Era Law To Force Manufacturers To Produce Medical Supplies

'We hope we don’t need it. It’s a big step,' Trump said of invoking the Defense Production Act.

New ventilators are seen at the Columbus Covid2 Hospital on March 16, 2020 in Rome, Italy
Marco Di Lauro / Getty Images

'We hope we don’t need it. It’s a big step,' Trump said of invoking the Defense Production Act.

The Trump administration is facing pressure to invoke the Defense Production Act (DPA), a Cold War-era law that would force manufacturers of medical equipment such as respirators to ramp up production so that the expected surge of COVID-19 patients won’t overwhelm already-struggling hospitals. President Donald Trump isn’t prepared to take that step yet, according to a Yahoo News report.

In 1950, with the U.S. on the verge of entering the Korean War, the Truman administration passed the DPA, allowing the president to “require” businesses to fulfill orders related to national defense and to allocate materials and production for the same reasons. The DPA has been invoked 50 times since it was signed into law.

circa 1950: An American soldier sleeps on his ammunition in the Mason area during the Korean war. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
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If the DPA was invoked due to the ongoing coronavirus emergency, the law could be used to compel manufacturers increase the supply of desperately-needed medical supplies. Said supplies could potentially include masks and other personal protective equipment, respirators, and other life-saving items that are at risk of running low as COVID-19 cases grow.

DORCHESTER, MASSACHUSETTS - MARCH 17: A view of Carney Hospital in Dorchester, MA on March 17, 2020 in Dorchester, Massachusetts. The hospital, part of the Steward Health Care system, is the nation's first "Dedicated Care Center" exclusively treating patients diagnosed with COVID-19. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
  Maddie Meyer / Getty Images

Jeff Bialos, who served in multiple bureaucratic capacities during the Clinton administration, says that the spread of the novel coronavirus is justification enough to invoke the law.

“I have little doubt they could do it.”

Dov Zakheim, who served in the Pentagon during the George H.W. Bush administration, says that Trump should have invoked the law weeks ago.

“We’re behind the eight ball, because we’ve been reactive. Here’s an opportunity to be proactive — if you even want to call it proactive at this point.”

Trump did consider invoking the DPA as early as three weeks ago. At the time, he was not convinced the coronavirus threat had developed to a point where the legislation needed to be invoked.

Despite the large growth in COVID-19 cases, Trump is reportedly still reluctant to invoke the Act, noting that some states still have only one or two cases. The president did acknowledge that the option is still on the table.

“We’ll make that decision pretty quickly if we need it. We hope we don’t need it. It’s a big step.”

Zakheim characterized Trump’s response as “reactive,” pointing out that it could take weeks for the manufacturing industry to ramp up production for the equipment required. Zakheim also suggested that invoking the Act too late could prove catastrophic for efforts in treating COVID-19, perhaps causing deaths that could have been prevented.

“He’s saying we don’t need it yet. There’s enough doctors out there saying we do need it right now,” he said.