By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Aug. 21, 2020) -- When the COVID-19 virus developed into a pandemic in the United States, the nation needed large quantities of medical supplies that were not readily available. In response, the Defense Department stood up the COVID-19 Joint Acquisition Task Force to help other government agencies meet their needs by tapping into the department's acquisition enterprise.
While the JATF itself will not last forever, the capability it provided will endure even after the COVID-19 crisis passes, Ellen M. Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, said.
During a press briefing at the Pentagon, Aug. 20, Lord said that the department is working to transition current JATF operations into an enduring policy and oversight office within the existing Joint Rapid Acquisition Cell. This will prepare the department to readily help other federal agencies with acquisition, should the need arise again.
"What we are doing is we are taking all of our learnings from what we have done with the JATF and we are reducing that to a playbook that can respond to any type of federal emergency where acquisition and sustainment support is needed," Lord said. "It could support another pandemic, but it could respond to other types of federal disasters as well."
The capabilities of the JATF will be folded into the existing Joint Rapid Acquisition Cell, Lord said. The JRAC was designed to help combatant command and warfighters already on the ground get the kinds of equipment they need more quickly than usual through traditional acquisition.
Later this fall, the personnel currently in the JATF will return to other duties within the department. "But we will maintain the capability to rapidly reconstitute [it], if needed," Lord said.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the department has worked with other federal partners, including Health and Human Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to help the U.S. industrial base meet the demand for medical supplies.
Lord noted that the department has partnered with HHS to invest nearly $630 million to expand the domestic industrial base for medical resource suppliers. Included in those efforts, she said, are $279 million to increase N-95 respirator mask production by nearly 100 million units per month by January 2021, $127 million to increase production of swabs by 65 million units per month for testing kits, $138 million to advance syringe technology and production of over 45 million units per month in support of the U.S. vaccine development strategy, $22.4 million to increase domestic glove manufacturing by 450 million units annually and $35 million to increase domestic manufacturing of COVID-19 testing kits by 10 million tests per month by February 2021.
"Through assisted acquisition, DOD continues to support HHS efforts to lead the interagency in replenishment of the strategic national stockpile and the distribution of supplies to states, territories and nursing homes to respond to the coronavirus outbreak," Lord said.