Congress wants review of foreign aid agency work on pandemic: NPR

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President Trump announces new role for Development Finance Corp. in May on a tour of Owens & Minor Inc., a medical supply company in Allentown, Pa.

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President Trump announces new role for Development Finance Corp. in May on a tour of Owens & Minor Inc., a medical supply company in Allentown, Pa.

Evan Vucci / AP

Updated at 10:30 a.m.ET

The upsurge in coronavirus cases has left some states scrambling once again to find supplies of masks, gowns, gloves and other medical supplies. The shortages have drawn attention to President Trump’s plan to help replenish the national stockpile of these supplies – a plan that involves a little-known foreign investment agency.

The US International Development Finance Corp. (DFC) is just starting its new pandemic mission. But his involvement is questioned by some Democratic members of Congress who have called for an independent review of the agency’s activities.

They want to know why this new foreign investment agency, which has been in existence for less than a year, needs to tackle this daunting national problem.

The agency’s mission is to provide loans to overseas projects as an alternative to China’s massive infrastructure investments around the world as part of its Belt and Road initiative.

“You already have a job. We want you to do this job well. It’s a big job,” a Democratic assistant to Congress told NPR, explaining the challenges of setting up a new agency. “And now the president has an idea and isn’t checking with anyone.”

Some members of Congress and other Washington insiders were stunned to hear the president tell a group of Pennsylvania factory workers in May that he was giving Development Finance Corp a new job.

“This federal agency normally invests in economic development projects in other countries. I said, “What if you invest in our country? “Trump said.

Trump signed an executive order authorizing the agency to operate as a bank, providing loans for projects that help supply the national medical stock. This could include lending money to a business looking to convert a factory to make items like masks, gloves or gowns.

The money will come from a Treasury Department Defense Production Act fund. Congress allocated $ 1 billion to this fund as part of the CARES law of March 27 in response to the pandemic. The DFC is working with the Ministry of Defense on the issue of stocks.

The new focus of the DFC raises several red flags, said George Ingram, who worked on US foreign aid during the Clinton administration.

“Congress has been very clear in rewriting the legislation, in writing the Build Act, in giving the DFC a very strong development mandate that fits with US foreign policy,” Ingram said. “He didn’t have a national mandate.

DFC absorbed the former Overseas Private Investment Corp and part of the US Agency for International Development.

Adam Boehler, chief of the DFC, helped the White House increase supplies of ventilators to the United States. Here, he discusses the plans in the Oval Office with Vice President Pence and Daniel O’Day of Gilead Sciences Inc.

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Adam Boehler, chief of the DFC, helped the White House increase supplies of ventilators to the United States. Here, he discusses the plans in the Oval Office with Vice President Pence and Daniel O’Day of Gilead Sciences Inc.

Jim Watson / AFP via Getty Images

Adam Boehler, chief executive of the DFC, said Trump had not changed the mandate. He just added a household item – a temporary item – to help solve a critical problem.

“My take on this is – these are amazing times,” Boehler told NPR. “I hope it’s once in a lifetime. And I think everyone, for the most part, understood why we would seek to invest nationally.”

Boehler brings experience from the private sector, where he started a home health care business before joining the Trump administration as a senior health and human services official. Boehler is a close friend of Jared Kushner, Trump’s adviser and son-in-law, and helped the White House Coronavirus Task Force increase ventilator supplies during the first months of the pandemic crisis, amid concerns that there is no shortage of hospitals.

Boehler said he hoped to announce the agency’s first coronavirus-related investment in a few weeks. “It is highly likely that it will be in the pharmaceutical manufacturing space,” Boehler told NPR.

Senate and House advisers told NPR they agreed that hospitals and medical professionals need federal help to fight the pandemic. But they wonder why an agency that’s just trying to get started is given such a big job outside of its mandate.

Last week, House of Representatives lawmakers asked the Government Accountability Office – a non-partisan watchdog – to review the change.

“As the federal government responds to the coronavirus pandemic, it is important that its work is done efficiently and without impacting other critical functions,” said Nita Lowey, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, in a statement to NPR.

“The reporting that we are making mandatory in our government and foreign operations appropriations bill will help ensure that the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation is able to focus on its core mission of providing an alternative to authoritarian governments seeking to gain influence through state-led investments and I look forward to seeing what recommendations the GAO comes up with to ensure this important function is not compromised, ”said Lowey in the press release.

Republicans attributed some of the concerns to politics. Representative Ted Yoho from Florida, who sponsored the bill that created the DFC, said he thinks it is wise for the agency to help secure vital medical supplies.

“Is this an overshoot of what they had initially planned?” Yoho said. “People will say that, but I think it is a smart investment from the point of view of American companies to strengthen our national security.”

Daniel Runde was a senior official with the US Agency for International Development during the Bush administration and helped advise on the legislation that created the new DFC. He also attributed some of the concerns about the agency’s new role to politics – but also said that there are real concerns that working on loans for domestic businesses distracts attention, people and the resources of the agency’s long-term goal to meet China’s overseas. investments.

Boehler said he spoke to members of Congress and understood their concerns. But he insisted that domestic work will be separated from the foreign role – and said a greater threat to the agency’s main mission is to secure sufficient funding from Congress for its foreign projects.

He said the agency would not drop the ball, noting that only 16 of the agency’s 450 staff will focus on national projects. “It’s an extremely manageable part of my business,” Boehler said.

Adam Boehler, CEO of the Development Finance Corporation, talks about efforts to increase supplies of ventilators for coronavirus patients in April.

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Adam Boehler, CEO of the Development Finance Corporation, talks about efforts to increase supplies of ventilators for coronavirus patients in April.

Alex Brandon / AP


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