Donald Trump puts a lot of responsibility on his son-in-law’s shoulders. Despite Jared Kushner’s relative lack of experience with anything beyond managing family real estate, he was tasked with the Trump White House’s efforts to negotiate peace between Israel and Palestine, for which he ordered everyone involved “don’t talk to me about history.” Then he was put in charge of Trump’s border wall. Now, the president has tapped Kushner for the biggest challenge facing the U.S. in recent history, the COVID-19 outbreak, and he’s doing as well as he did on achieving a two-state solution and completing a border wall.
Kushner is in charge of a supply chain unit inside of vice president Mike Pence’s coronavirus response task force, meaning he’s responsible for ramping up production of essential equipment-like much-needed ventilators for intensive care units and personal protective equipment (PPE) like N95 respirator masks-and distributing them to states. So far, the Trump administration hasn’t had a great track record on either count. Hospitals across the country are dealing with crippling shortages of PPE, and in a press briefing Kushner bristled at the idea that the federal government should be doing more to help, telling reporters that a federal stockpile of supplies was “ours.” In some instances, the federal government is bidding against states for equipment, and there have even been cases of the government seizing supplies from hospitals with no explanation. According to a new NBC News story, that’s because the top two priorities for Kushner’s task force are protecting “private profit and the ability of the White House to choose where supplies go.”
Inside the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Kushner doesn’t inspire anywhere near the confidence Trump seems to have in him-in fact, his task force is derisively labelled “the children” since they seem to have no idea what they’re doing and are more focused on tapping personal contacts than making effective decisions. Kushner appears convinced that the best way to meet a fast-moving pandemic is to take a page from tech start-up culture: he’s bent on disrupting federal emergency management policy, a move that governors and public health official tell NBC News has turned the response effort into chaos and a slowdown. “Jared and his friends decided they were going to do their thing,” one senior government official involved in the response said. “It cost weeks.”
Kushner’s task force operates largely in the dark, releasing little information and facing no accountability or official scrutiny for any of its decisions. Typically, FEMA would use its regional offices to tap smaller local vendors for emergency supplies. Under Kushner’s leadership, his task force has scrapped all of that, preferring to contract with massive corporations.
A prime example is DuPont, the Delaware-based chemical giant. It usually takes three months for the company to ship its patented Tyvek material to Vietnam where it’s fashioned into protective suits and sent back to the U.S. The federal government offered to pay for chartered flights so DuPont could get 750,000 suits turned around in a mere 10 days, which the company accepted-DuPont then sold the suits for $4 apiece to a third party distributor that in turn sold them to the U.S. for an undisclosed sum. “We actually helped get raw materials supplied from Richmond, Virginia, and we flew that s– to Vietnam, all so that DuPont could sell us” their products, a senior federal official involved in the coronavirus effort told NBC News.
Meanwhile, health care workers in New York have to rely on donated ski goggles for lack of protective eyewear. Hospitals are struggling on their own to weed out scammers from legitimate mask vendors. And while DuPont is jacking up prices on its already-subsidized protective suits, nurses in some hospitals have resorted to wearing garbage bags.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the price of Tyvek suits and the amount sold. We regret the error.