Another DEI Win: Strategic National Stockpile Not Ready for Next Emergency

AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell

Have you ever heard of the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS)? I'll confess that it took me a moment to recall what it was. It's a program run by the Department of Health and Human Services that is intended to hold a reserve of certain critical supplies that can be distributed to the states and the public during an emergency. The stockpile includes things like vaccines, drugs, syringes, masks, and other supplies that can be required during a health emergency. Sounds like a good idea, right? And it was. But as you can probably imagine, it was massively depleted during the COVID pandemic. Now the Government Accountability Office has completed a review and found that those supplies were not restocked after the pandemic and the SNS is ill-prepared if another national outbreak of any sort strikes us. (Government Executive)

The Health and Human Services Department still has not resolved systemic issues that states experienced when requesting and receiving items from the strategic national stockpile during the COVID-19 and mpox public health emergencies, according to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office.

“By improving coordination related to the SNS—both internally and externally—ahead of the next emergency, HHS will be better positioned to understand and manage challenges that might otherwise derail future responses,” the report said. 

The stockpile contains drugs, vaccines and other medical supplies that can be provided to states, localities, territories and tribes during emergencies.

The SNS began being drained early in 2020 while Donald Trump was still the President and it continued to bleed off supplies all through the first 18 months of Biden's presidency, finally easing up once the vaccines were widely available and the pandemic began to fade. But that was a couple of years ago. Why wasn't there a massive surge in purchasing to bring us back to pre-pandemic levels?

Perhaps someone should bring that question to the attention of Xavier Becerra, Biden's Secretary of Health and Human Services. He's held the position since March of 2021, so he was clearly around for some of the worst of the pandemic and presumably had his finger on the pulse of all of the requests for supplies that HHS was receiving. Shouldn't he have been placing orders for replacements of all of those supplies like a madman as soon as the manufacturers were capable of cranking them out? Congress and the White House were sloshing around pandemic relief money like there was no tomorrow, so there shouldn't have been any issue with paying for all of it.

Not to put too fine of a point on this, but we should probably take a look back at Becerra's history. When his appointment was announced, the Biden administration proudly touted him as "the first Latino to hold this position in history." Ah, yes... another "historic nomination." But did anyone bother looking into his background? He has a Bachelor of Arts in economics from Stanford and a law degree from Stanford Law. He spent a brief time working as a lawyer before moving into politics in California, serving as a legislative aid before running for the state assembly and later a House seat. 

That might sound somewhat impressive, but what in the world does any of that have to do with Health and Human Services? Becerra isn't a doctor and he has no medical training. He hasn't even worked as a medical industry administrator, where he might at least have had to appoint people to stock warehouses. He's a lawyer. Why would we expect him to excel in this office? Becerra was another DEI hire by the Biden administration allowing them to point to the "historic first Latino" to fill that job. We're apparently starting to see how well that's been working out.

The linked report from Government Executive goes on to point out that the GAO also found that the main guidance document for the SNS hasn't been updated in ages. It doesn't even reflect the fact that responsibility for the day-to-day administration of the SNS was transferred to the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response. And before you bother to go look that up, yes... the ASPR also falls under HHS so that is Becerra's responsibility also. 

The Senate even drafted a bill last year that would have strengthened the SNS and promoted better communications with the public about how it works and how people could request supplies. The bill was abandoned in the Democrat-controlled chamber. So setting aside the "historic" nature of Xavier Becerra's tenure in this office, we shouldn't feel guilty about asking precisely what this guy has been doing for the past more than three years. It certainly doesn't sound like a lot of has been accomplished.

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John Stossel 1:00 PM | June 15, 2024