Strategic National Stockpile Website Changes After Jared Kushner's Controversial Claim It Was Not For States' Use

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Senior Advisor to the President Jared Kushner speaks during the daily briefing on the COVID-19 coronavirus in the Brady Briefing Room at the White House on April 2, 2020, in Washington, D.C. MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images/Getty

Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday changed the website for the Strategic National Stockpile so its mission statement matched a controversial claim made by Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser.

"The notion of the federal stockpile was it's supposed to be our stockpile; it's not supposed to be state stockpiles that they then use," Kushner said Thursday. He also claimed that members of Congress who were seeking to ensure sufficient supplies of equipment (such as ventilators) before their districts were running low on them were "asking for things that they don't necessarily need at the moment."

However, since at least December 2018, the stockpile's mission statement on its HHS-run web site explained that it was available "when state, local, tribal, and territorial responders request federal assistance to support their response efforts" in order to "ensures that the right medicines and supplies get to those who need them most during an emergency."

Now, instead of the explanation of how states could request access to the stockpile in an emergency, the website says that its role is "to supplement state and local supplies during public health emergencies," and notes that "many states have products stockpiled as well," with the federal stockpile meant to be "a short-term stopgap buffer when the immediate supply of adequate amounts of these materials may not be immediately available."

Kushner became the latest senior White House official to attempt this bait-and-switch during Thursday's White House press briefing, moments after his father-in-law claimed that individual states should have built their own stockpiles of supplies instead of relying on the federal stockpile established to support states during an emergency.

The stockpile program, which began in 2003, was established by Congress to "provide for and optimize the emergency health security of the United the event of a bioterrorist attack or other public health emergency." It is overseen by the Assistant Health and Human Services Secretary for Preparedness and Response, and stored in warehouses around the country in expectation of a disaster which would deplete medical supplies in the area.

Yet, the governors of states with large numbers of coronavirus patients have reported that they have been unable to obtain sufficient supplies from the stockpile in the weeks since U.S. President Donald Trump declared a national emergency over the worldwide coronavirus pandemic.

This has remained the case despite assertions by President Trump that his administration is "doing a great job" of supplying states with masks, face shields, and other Personal Protective Equipment require to prevent health care providers from contracting the highly contagious coronavirus.

But rather than acknowledge problems with the federal response to the pandemic, administration officials instead appear to be trying to persuade the public that the Strategic National Stockpile was never supposed to be used to assist states during public health emergencies.

An HHS official told Newsweek that Kushner's statement did not represent any change in policy, and that the stockpile's purpose remains what is has been since its establishment.

The HHS official also said the change had nothing to do with Kushner's briefing, but was instead meant to ensure that the site matched the language which the department's office of public affairs has been using for the past month.

"What's on the website has been exactly what we've been telling reporters since, like the beginning of March," the official said.

Craig Fugate, who served as the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency from 2009 to 2017, said the intent of the stockpile was to provide "push packages" that could get to the states quickly in the event of an emergency, to be followed up with more supplies procured by the federal government using its' existing logistical capabilities.

"One thing the federal government really can do... is place really big orders," he explained.

"They can contract for inconceivable amount of stuff and they have a lot of contracting resources that states may not always have. And so in some cases, it actually makes sense for the federal government to go out and acquire stuff on behalf of the states and get it to them."