President Donald Trump on Thursday said his administration will improve the Strategic National Stockpile of drugs and medical supplies to ensure the U.S. is prepared to respond to viruses like COVID-19 in the future.
Officials will use lessons learned from the current pandemic and supply-chain management strategies from the Defense Department to refill and preserve the stockpile. The federal government now has a "well-defined understanding" of which critical supplies it needs and in what amounts, a senior administration official said.
When the COVID-19 outbreak began in the U.S., the federal government had one to three weeks of supply for most items in the national stockpile. According to a senior administration official, the Trump administration aims to create a 90-day supply for those items to create "a buffer" until the U.S. can increase domestic manufacturing surge capacity.
The administration is fundamentally rethinking how HHS, the Defense Department and the Federal Emergency Management Agency coordinate their activities so they can respond more effectively.
"What we're doing is creating a much more robust, much more capable and much less vulnerable Strategic National Stockpile," he said. "This is going to require the permanent restructuring of a whole series of relationships using information technology and contracting capabilities very differently than anyone has in the past."
Federal agencies will also adjust their relationships and communication with states, hospitals, distributors and manufacturers to safeguard the national stockpile. That includes collecting more information from hospitals about how many supplies they have in stock and "how much they're burning through," a senior administration official said.
"You can't manage a stockpile unless you can see it," he said.
Officials will take advantage of strategies like shelf-life management to make sure that critical supplies are fully stocked, even if they expire. The federal government will unload expiring supplies and replace them with new supplies on an ongoing basis. It will also contract with manufacturers to make sure there are fresh supplies to replace expiring or depleted stockpiles.
"It's easier to keep production lines warm than to build one from new," a senior administration official said.
Healthcare experts and some states have criticized the Trump administration over supply shortages that have gotten in the way of the nation's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. They blasted the administration for not replenishing stockpiles before the crisis and being slow to use its power to ramp up production in response to the outbreak.
The Trump administration has pushed back, blaming governors for supply shortages in their states.
Jared Kushner, a senior White House adviser and the president's son-in-law, said during an April news conference that the Strategic National Stockpile is not supposed to be a backup for states. Governors, other public officials and healthcare experts disputed his claim. The next day, HHS changed the website description of the Strategic National Stockpile to better match Kushner's statement from the news conference.