Reports: Inexperience and cronyism slowed Kushner-led efforts to procure medical supplies


The group of about a dozen volunteers, mostly in their 20s, was part of a broader Coronavirus supply chain task force assembled by the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, reports the two news sites.

They were awarded the title of Best Thousand Thousands of Protective Equipment Leaders and sent to a FEMA procurement team for final approval, Post and Times reported.

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"The bottom line is that this program fetched tens of millions of masks and essential PPE in record time, and Americans who needed fans got fans," Kushner said in a statement delivered to the Post. "These volunteers are real patriots."

CNN has reached out to the White House about the volunteer team.

But the volunteers, who were recruited from consulting and investment firms and began their task at the end of March, had little or no experience with health care and handling procurement procedures or medical devices, the Times and Post reported.

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It eventually led to lost opportunities to procure personal protective equipment (PPE) from reputable sources, two current and former federal emergency preparedness authorities told the Times, at a critical juncture when the states rushed for medical resources and the number of hospital admissions from Covid-19 increased.

The volunteer group was confused and overwhelmed by their task and gave little initial instructions, according to a complaint about whistleblowers who were sent in by a former volunteer last month and given to the House Oversight Committee, the Times reported. The group received non-disclosure forms from the Department of Homeland Security days after they started, according to the Times.

According to the complaint, few of the leaders they flagged up ended up training, the Times reported.

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"I think the volunteers are competent, hardworking and intelligent, but we represent a smaller procurement team than most most mid-sized companies despite the scale of the crisis," the complaint says, according to the Post. "I think America deserves a bigger and better funded response. The team usually works 12+ hour days, seven days a week, but frankly has little to show for it."

CNN has reached out to the House Oversight Committee.

The volunteer group was also told to prioritize "VIPs" leads, including political allies, conservative journalists and colleagues of President Donald Trump, sales outlets reported.

Fox News Channel host Jeanine Pirro repeatedly lobbied the administration for a specific New York hospital to receive a large bulk of masks and "Fox & Friends" host Brian Kilmeade walked along a PPE leader, the Post reports, citing two people who is familiar with the outreach. A spokesman for Fox News said in the post that Kilmeade and Pirro said they did not realize they were being prioritized.

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According to emails obtained by the Times, two of the volunteers in March had obtained procurement documents submitted by a Silicon Valley engineer, Yaron Oren-Pines, who claimed he could procure more than 1,000 respirators.

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The volunteers relayed the lead to federal officials, who then sent it to New York officials who believed Oren-Pines had been monitored, the Times reports. New York State awarded the engineer a $ 69 million contract, but did not get a single fan, as first reported by BuzzFeed News.

According to complaints from whistleblowers, they had voluntary problems in establishing relationships with manufacturers and brokers, partly because they had personal email accounts, which cast doubt on potential sources, the Times and Post reported.

The alert also said that the group's work was crippled by "frequent process changes, wasted efforts, poor communication and fear of lack of progress," the Times reported.

"These problems affect the entire chain of command, impede our ability to respond, and can cause many Americans to lose their lives," the alert wrote, the Times reports.

Two managers in the administration disputed parts of the notification complaint to the post.

They told the newspaper that many of the volunteers had relevant experience, and that they had no trouble getting leads or getting answers from suppliers and brokers.

The officials told the Post that they had not heard of potential customers receiving VIP treatment.

They said it is difficult to know if the voluntary leaders on PPE resulted in acquisitions since the group did not have a final statement or purchasing authority, Posten reports.

Senior administration officials also told the Times that all leaders had to be assessed by career government officials and any contract decision would be finalized by the FEMA procurement team.

After the volunteers left in early April, other potential suppliers contacted FEMA officials and asked about their missed offers, the Times reported.

FEMA officials, who did not have a complete record of the voluntary calls, were forced to start the vetting process for some prospects, according to the Times.

Baker's CEO John Polowczyk, the leader of the supply chain task force, told the Times that the volunteers had served an important function.

"The first thing we knew we needed to do was find more product around the globe to buy time to increase domestic production," Polowczyk said in a statement to the newspaper. "This group called many conversations, followed many leaders. They helped wade through hundreds of false allegations and left a few true sources of government action. Their efforts saved many hours of government hours."

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