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Lawmakers call for ‘czar’ to help drivers secure personal protective equipment

Drivers are concerned about the lack of PPE. Credit: Flickr/Maryland National Guard

A group of lawmakers wants the next COVID-19 relief package to include the creation of a “supply chain czar” to ensure personal protective equipment (PPE) gets to truck drivers and other essential workers.

In a letter sent to congressional leadership last week, 25 Democrats from the U.S. House of Representatives warned that centralized responsibility is needed to oversee and direct production, acquisition and distribution of critical equipment to help streamline and expedite delivery of supplies needed to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

“Essential employers, such as grocers, truck lines, and essential manufacturers (including makers of desperately needed ventilators) need access to PPE and cleaning/sanitizing supplies to avoid supply chain disruptions of essential goods and ensure a safe environment for both employees and customers,” the letter stated.

Brad Schneider, D-Ill., who is leading the group, said that while governors are doing what they can for their states, “the lack of clear direction from the White House is creating bidding wars between providers, states, and federal agencies, and wasting critical time and resources. We desperately need a singular, competent, and non-political supply chain authority to successfully coordinate our national response.”

Concern among drivers about the lack of PPE is supported by data collected by WorkHound. A recent survey conducted by the driver feedback platform revealed that 27% of drivers are concerned about sanitation practices and wanted to know that their companies were taking “extra precautions to ensure that their equipment is safe and sanitized.” Some asked that their companies provide PPE including masks, hand sanitizer and gloves.

A supply chain czar, according to Schneider, would have the authority to:

  • Comprehensively survey states, hospitals and essential employers, using existing resources and reporting where possible, to determine need of critical supplies, including the creation of a national database of current hospital capacity and supplies;
  • Mandate, facilitate and enforce sufficient production levels under the Defense Production Act, particularly for components and raw materials;
  • Become the centralized procurer of critical supplies, using the centralized authority and purchasing power to ensure an end to rampant price-gouging in the marketplace, including in the transportation of critical medical supplies;
  • Distribute supplies based on most urgent need, at the discretion of the czar;
  • Report daily supply gaps and progress made in closing the gaps.

Schneider and three of his colleagues requesting the supply chain czar introduced related legislation on Friday to ensure better oversight of PPE and other emergency resources.

The Emergency Supply Chain Transparency Act would require that the president report to Congress “detailed information about the transport, distribution, and possession of emergency resources by federal agencies and their private partners every 14 days,” according to lawmakers. “The legislation follows several requests for detailed information about FEMA’s efforts to maintain visibility on PPE and guard supplies from the threat of hoarders and price gougers.”

They note that the Trump administration launched the Project Airbridge partnership to cut shipping times for emergency supplies from Asia from 30 days to two days to meet the needs of front-line workers responding to the COVID-19 emergency. Half of those supplies, after arriving in the U.S., are turned over to private medical supply companies for distribution through the traditional supply chain.

On April 20, Congress and the White House were close to a deal to replenish the Paycheck Protection Program, which provided $10.6 billion to the transportation sector in its first round of funding, with another $300 billion, according to reports.

A provision affecting drivers that some lawmakers want to see included in the relief package — which was also supported in the WorkHound survey — is additional hazard pay for drivers. WorkHound’s survey revealed that drivers believe they deserve extra pay given that they are risking their health to ensure essential goods get delivered. Senate Democrats want truck drivers and other essential “front-line” private-sector employees to receive up to $25,000 in additional pay through the rest of the year.

John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.