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Trump administration mismanaged ventilator contracts and overpaid for devices, says Democrat-led House committee

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The Trump administration failed to properly manage and negotiate contracts for ventilators, both before and during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report by the Democratic-led House Oversight and Reform Committee. The report details the administration's failures to supply ventilators, and claims the administration squandered up to $500 million in taxpayer funds. 

"The American people got ripped off, and Donald Trump and his team got taken to the cleaners," said Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, chairman of the committee's Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy. "The Trump Administration's mishandling of ventilator procurement for the nation's stockpile cost the American people dearly during the worst public health crisis of our generation.  Not only did the Administration jeopardize the health and safety of the American people – but it squandered more than half-a-billion dollars that could have been used to better support our nation's crisis response efforts."

Mr. Trump, who initially complained that governors wanted too many ventilators, has cited the nation's ventilator production and acquisition as an example of his administration's success in fighting the virus. Health experts and hospitals were urging the Trump administration to do more about the ventilator shortage, as the world was still learning about how best to fight the virus. Since then, hospitals have employed additional tools to fight COVID-19, like placing patients on their stomachs.

The Trump administration ultimately agreed to pay $15,000 each for Trilogy EV300 ventilators, after Phillips failed to provide the 10,000 Trilogy Evo Universal ventilators the Obama administration ordered in 2014 for $3,280 each, according to the report. The report claims the ventilators are functionally the same. 

The White House responded to the report by calling it "nothing more than a stunt that is only meant to politicize the coronavirus."

"Because of the president's leadership, the United States leads the world in the production and acquisition of ventilators.," White House spokesman Judd Deere said. "No American who needed a ventilator was denied one, and no American who needs a ventilator in the future will be denied one. Democrats should be ashamed of themselves for this misleading and inaccurate report." 

In 2014, the Obama administration contracted with Phillips to supply the national stockpile with 10,000 ventilators by June 2019. The Obama administration eventually allowed Phillips and extension that would have required all the ventilators to be created by November 2019, which was still before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Phillips continued to delay through 2017 and 2018, the first two years of the Trump administration, and the report claims the administration repeatedly mismanaged Phillips' failures to live up to their obligations. The Trump administration gave Phillips three extra extensions, allowing for the ventilators to be complete in June 2021. 

On January 21, 2020, the company came to the administration to discuss speeding up the ventilators under the current contract. When the Department of Health and Human Services responded six weeks later, it agreed to yet another extension, pushing out all deadlines until September 2022.

Peter Navarro, the president's top trade adviser, negotiated a new contract with Phillips in which the administration agreed to pay the delinquent company nearly five times the price for ventilators than under the prior contract, the report notes. According to documents unearthed by the committee, the administration appeared to accept Phillips' first offer for the ventilators without attempting to negotiate.

Top Republicans on the oversight committee and subcommittee, Representative James Comer and Representative Michael Cloud, called the report incredibly misleading. 

"The Democrats' latest report shows they will stop at nothing in their endless quest to politicize this pandemic. After months of Democratic governors begging for more ventilators, congressional Democrats are now unhappy with the administration's successful efforts to quickly secure a robust supply of ready to use ventilators," Comer and Cloud said in a joint statement. 

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