At the beginning of January, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) turned down an offer made by U.S. company Prestige Ameritech who offered to manufacture millions of N95 respirators.
The medical supply company, located in Fort Worth, Texas had noticed the government’s supplies diminishing so had volunteered to make additional N95 masks. These masks have been in high demand since the pandemic hit. The head of Prestige Ameritech, Michael Bowen, offered to use four of their dormant production lines to produce as many as seven million masks per month.
“We are the last major domestic mask company. My phones are ringing now, so I don’t ‘need’ government business. I’m just letting you know that I can help you preserve our infrastructure if things ever get really bad,” said Bowen after the government rejected his offer.
According to Truthout, federal scientist Rick Bright, who filed a 89-page whistleblower complaint last week over his demotion following his criticism of the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic, detailed communications with Prestige Ameritech in January in which HHS ignored the medical supply company’s offer to produce masks.
Prestige Ameritech later exported millions of the masks they had produced to China.
Now, as a result, the Trump administration has had to turn to expensive, untested third-party distributors and has to use the Defense Production Act to get companies to produce these life-saving masks.
According to Vox, the federal government went on to spend more than $600 million on contracts including mask production. Honeywell and 3M were given contracts worth more than $170 million to produce protective gear. And a tactical training company with no history of producing medical equipment was given $55 million to make N95 masks for $5.50 each — a price around seven to nine times greater than other suppliers, including Bowen’s company. Prestige Ameritech was eventually given a $9.5 million contract in early April to produce N95 masks for 79 cents each.