More than a week after claiming that he was using wartime powers to force General Motors to manufacture ventilators for coronavirus, President Donald Trump has not formally ordered any of the machines, three administration officials revealed to the USA TODAY.
As governors warn of severe shortages of ventilators, Trump has been hesitant to use his wartime powers to force companies to ramp up production under the Defense Production Act, arguing that such an order amounts to a takeover of private industry.
But Trump said eight days ago that he would use the act to require General Motors to make ventilators after what he described as a dispute with the company over supply and pricing. But the officials told USA TODAY that the government is still exploring its options and has not yet placed an order under the Defense Production Act for any of the machines.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency “continues to work within its authorities to coordinate with the private sector,” an agency spokesperson who declined to be identified said when asked about the lack of an order to GM. Federal agencies are “in the process of reviewing these delegated authorities,” the person said.
The revelation that the administration has not yet ordered ventilators under the Defense Production Act from GM comes as Trump Thursday announced a fresh request to Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar to use the act for several other companies, including General Electric, Hill-Rom Holdings, Medtronic, ResMed, Royal Philips, and Vyaire Medical.
Trump told reporters he signed a new order under the act to help companies “overcome obstacles in the supply chain” to speed up the production of ventilators. He also said he spoke with GM CEO Mary Barra, who reported that the company would be ready to start production “very soon.”
“We anticipate issuing more orders under the Defense Production Act in the very near future,” the president said. Administration officials have stressed that GM is still working to manufacture the ventilators and Trump has said he views the Defense Production Act more as a threat he can wield to nudge the companies along. But the president and his senior aides have repeatedly talked of using the law – only to later back away.
On Friday, Trump told reporters that he thought Washington had an agreement with General Motors to manufacture the ventilators but said the company lowered its estimate of how many units it could produce and that “price became a big object.” The president then said he would use his powers under the Defense Production Act to force the automaker to start work on the machines.
“I invoked the Defense Production Act to compel General Motors to accept, perform, and prioritize federal contracts for ventilators,” Trump said. “This invocation of the DPA should demonstrate clearly to all that we will not hesitate to use the full authority of the federal government to combat this crisis.”
In fact, Trump actually took a less significant step: He signed a memorandum delegating “available” authorities under the act to Azar. The health department has been working since then with FEMA and other federal agencies to figure out how to execute Trump’s wishes.
Peter Navarro, who Trump named as his point person on the Defense Production Act, told Politico on Thursday that the administration was relying on voluntary updates from the company.
General Motors declined to answer questions about Trump’s use of the DPA but said in a statement it was “moving forward to build as many ventilators as we can as fast as we can.”
The White House declined to comment.