A group of Senate Democrats want a federal watchdog to investigate the decision to change an online description of the country’s Strategic National Stockpile following a press briefing with White House adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerCongress needs to step up fast to protect abused children Kushner makes first appearance at coronavirus briefing Trump leans on businesses in coronavirus response MORE.
Four Democratic senators sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) office of inspector general saying that the change in language — which caught widespread attention on Friday — raised concerns about “potential improper interference … to advance a political agenda.”
“We request that HHS OIG launch an investigation … to determine whether political appointees in the Trump administration directed the improper use of public resources on behalf of Jared Kushner or other political appointees to alter information on an official Federal agency government website,” they wrote in the letter.
Sens. Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthIllinois governor endorses Biden one day before primary Trump weighs in on airport screening delays: ‘We must get it right. Safety first!’ Returning Americans face long screening lines at airports MORE (D-Ill.), Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoDemocratic senators ask IRS to extend tax filing deadline amid coronavirus outbreak Democratic senators ask prison operators for answers on coronavirus plans Overnight Energy: EPA revamps ‘secret science’ rule | Scientists warn rule still limits research | Trump calls for full funding for conservation program | 19 states sue over border wall funding MORE (D-Hawaii), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenMaryland Legislative Black Caucus pushes for state to release racial breakdown of coronavirus impact Hillicon Valley: T-Mobile, Sprint complete merger | Warren pushes food delivery apps to classify workers as full employees | Lawsuit accuses Zoom of improperly sharing user data Warren calls on food delivery apps to classify workers as full employees MORE (D-Mass.) and Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyDemocratic senators call on domestic airlines to issue cash refunds for travelers Overnight Energy: Critics blast EPA move as ‘license to pollute’ during pandemic | Trump expected to roll back Obama mileage standards| Group plans to sue over rollback of water law Hillicon Valley: Twitter says Chinese official’s virus disinformation doesn’t violate rules | Hackers target WHO | Senators urge agencies to stop coronavirus robocalls MORE (D-Mass.) signed the letter.
Previously, according to the federal public health emergency website, the Strategic National Stockpile was described as “the nation’s largest supply of life-saving pharmaceuticals and medical supplies for use in a public health emergency severe enough to cause local supplies to run out.”
The description continued: “When state, local, tribal, and territorial responders request federal assistance to support their response efforts, the stockpile ensures that the right medicines and supplies get to those who need them most during an emergency.”
But on Friday that was replaced with a shorter one-paragraph description that says the stockpile is meant as a “short-term stopgap.”
“The Strategic National Stockpile’s role is to supplement state and local supplies during public health emergencies. Many states have products stockpiled, as well. The supplies, medicines, and devices for life-saving care contained in the stockpile can be used as a short-term stopgap buffer when the immediate supply of adequate amounts of these materials may not be immediately available,” the website now says.
The change grabbed attention because it more closely matched what Kushner said on Thursday, when he told states to be more resourceful in procuring supplies for themselves and not rely on the federal government for assistance.
“The notion of the federal stockpile was it’s supposed to be our stockpile, it’s not supposed to be the state’s stockpile that they then use,” Kushner said.
The Democratic senators called the change an “inaccurate deletion” that “distorts the public’s understanding of the purpose of the Strategic National Stockpile and violates principles of good and honest government, including transparency, faithful execution of the agency’s mission and most importantly, advancing the public interest.”
“The timing of the deletion appears related to Jared Kushner’s inaccurate statement yesterday,” they added.
HHS pushed back on the idea that the change was directly tied to Kushner’s statement.
In a statement posted to the HHS Public Affairs Twitter account, the agency said it “first began working to update this text a week ago to more clearly explain the role of the Strategic National Stockpile. HHS has been using this same language in statements to the press for weeks now.”