FORT BELVOIR, Virginia –
The Defense Logistics Agency is supporting the nation’s COVID-19 response with direly needed supplies like ventilators and face masks through medical readiness contracts that are part of its Warstopper Program.
The supplies include over 1 million N95 masks, 1 million exam gloves, 90,000 isolation gowns, 20,000 ventilators, shoe covers and more, said Luis Villarreal, DLA industrial capability and Warstopper Program manager.
DLA and Defense Department officials are still determining who will receive the items though some have already been distributed to deploying units, service field hospitals, USNS Mercy and USNS Comfort. DOD officials are also working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is coordinating the federal government’s efforts with Health and Human Services and state and local governments.
The amount and type of items being requested fluctuates daily as needs emerge and industry ramps up production through the Defense Production Act invoked March 18 by President Donald Trump. While the 1950 law gives government agencies more control of manufacturing during emergencies, it also gives DOD authority to partner with industry and make investments to boost readiness on a continual basis.
“That means industry has to accept our orders if they normally produce the parts, and they’ve got to put our orders in front of their schedule for commercial work,” Villarreal said.
The Warstopper Program complements those protection measures by shielding over 14,000 medical items identified by the services as being critical from becoming scarce due to resources or industrial limitations. Long before COVID-19 spread across the globe, DLA’s contracting team established Warstopper contracts with suppliers and purchased vital material to ensure essential go-to-war items could be rapidly produced. To ensure availability of ventilators, for example, DLA bought and prepositioned parts at Zoll Medical Corp.
“They might be able to routinely get some of the parts they need to manufacture the ventilator in a week, but other components might take two months. We preplanned for that by purchasing that material and paying them to keep it available for us so that when we needed to surge that contract we could,” Villarreal said.
As a result, DLA’s Warstopper-funded contracts facilitate “guaranteed access” and delivery of material much faster than if orders were submitting on an as-needed basis, he continued. In the case of ventilators, Zoll agreed to make 40 units available within five days of the initial order, 360 by 15 days, 400 in 30 days and so forth.
“There’s no way anybody could do anything like that without the structure of our Warstopper contracts,” Villarreal said.
All Warstopper contracts are sized to support DOD needs but have been used to support the public through humanitarian assistance.
“Any time you see the USNS Mercy or USNS Comfort sail, most of what they’re filled with are items purchased through Warstopper readiness contracts,” he said, adding that caution is taken when providing Warstopper items to non-DOD entities during earthquakes and hurricanes to ensure they aren’t needed by the military.
The COVID-19 pandemic represents scenarios DLA has in mind when it allocates funds from its annual Warstopper budget – $49 million in 2020. About $20 million is allocated every year in medical readiness contracts, including an arrangement with 3M for 6 million N95 masks, Villarreal said. The rest is used to protect material ranging from construction equipment to uniform components and batteries.
The program was created in 1994 in part to replace war reserves not used during Operation Desert Storm because items had expired. Vendors are contractually obligated to maintain shelf life of the material by rotating it with commercial stock, Villarreal added.
DLA’s access to Warstopper items wouldn’t be possible without the close, long-term partnerships it develops with industry, he continued. Many of the supplies have a low peacetime demand that makes suppliers reluctant to produce them.
“It’s not robust business. It definitely requires their cooperation to be able to enter into these agreements,” he said.
The COVID-19 pandemic is the latest of DLA’s support to humanitarian assistance efforts. It has also provided life-saving supplies to Americans and those abroad following hurricanes, earthquakes, forest fires and the Ebola outbreak.