WASHINGTON - The Trump administration said late Tuesday it was able to secure additional coronavirus test kits without wielding its powers under the Defense Production Act, despite announcing earlier that it planned to use the law for the first time to obtain the materials.
"At the last minute, we were able to procure the test kits from the private market without evoking the DPA," said Lizzie Litzow, spokeswoman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Earlier Tuesday, FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor told CNN his team planned to "use the DPA for the first time" to obtain about 60,000 coronavirus test kits to help health care workers confront a widespread shortage of medical supplies amid the unfolding crisis.
"There's some test kits we need to get our hands on," he said, adding that the administration would also insert "DPA language" into mass contracts for 500 million masks.
The Korean War-era law allows President Donald Trump to address the shortage of medical supplies by directing private companies to expedite the production of medical equipment. Trump invoked the DPA last week but has resisted calls from governors and other officials to put it into practice as the administration scrambles to expand coronavirus testing across the country.
"We're going to use it, we're going to use it when we need it, and we're going to use it today," Gaynor said, adding that administration would "use the allocation portion" of the law.
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Kelly Magsamen, an expert on national security, said it appeared the administration had been planning to use "a very technical, narrow piece" of the law.
Invoking the law's "allocation" provision allows the federal government to put companies on notice that they should set aside supplies that will be needed to fulfill a coming order, said Magsamen, a scholar at the Center for American Progress who worked has worked in the Obama and Bush administrations.
Other provisions in the law, if invoked, would require private manufacturers to fill orders from the government before any others and would even allow companies to receive financial and other assistance to help fill government demands. But Gaynor did not say whether those provisions would be invoked.
The president weighed in on using the law Tuesday morning, tweeting that the DPA was "in full force, but haven't had to use it because no one has said NO! Millions of masks coming back up to States."
Trump has argued he doesn't need to enforce the law because companies are volunteering to manufacture supplies and he is against the idea nationalizing U.S. businesses.
Trump used the Defense Production Act last summer to direct the Defense Department to develop and buy equipment to increase the production of metals used in electronics to offset an effort by China to restrict exports.
But, "it has been a long time since (the law) has been used for public health purposes," said Doug Jacobson, an international trade attorney in Washington.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coronavirus: FEMA got test kits at 'last minute' without wartime law