Opinion

Bringing PPE Production Back Home: A 100-Day Plan

In the midst of a once-in-a-generation health care crisis that has tested our manufacturing resiliency and the strength of our overall economy, our nation needs a strategic plan to bring personal protective equipment manufacturing home.

President Joe Biden has outlined a robust COVID-19 pandemic response plan, the Build Back Better initiative, and signed executive orders to strengthen the manufacturing supply chain for these essential products. These initiatives, designed to bolster domestic manufacturing supply chains for PPE, can ensure that front-line workers never again experience disastrous shortages of the life-saving products they need to safely do their job. 

We welcome the president’s commitment and believe his plan, coupled with passing strong bipartisan legislation on Capitol Hill gives us a pivotal opportunity to build a long-term, robust domestic manufacturing chain for these essential products for many years to come.

We need do nothing more than recall the chaos at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic to grasp the danger of our continued dependence on offshore sources for PPE. As international supply chains broke down at the height of the crisis, many health care workers were scrambling to find PPE, making trash bags into isolation gowns and reusing disposable masks. This should be a lesson that is never repeated — and a call to action for us all.

The U.S. textile industry and its incredible workforce heeded that call and retooled production and operations virtually overnight, producing millions of face masks, isolation gowns, testing swabs and other critical medical textiles. 

Nearly a year into the pandemic, the United States has significant manufacturing capacity to make PPE and other essential products. Unfortunately, many domestic producers have the capacity but lack long-term orders from the federal government to supply this life-saving equipment. All the while, headlines continue to sound the alarm about shortages for these essential products for our front-line health care workers. Our industry stands ready to work with the government and hospital systems to manufacture the products our front-line workers need.

There are seven critical steps Biden and Congress can take in his first 100 days in office to help revitalize American PPE manufacturing and help our front-line workers.

  1. Prioritize the purchase of PPE and other critical health care products that are fully made in America and issue contracts directly to manufacturers.
  2. Adopt a contracting award process that ensures we are purchasing quality, durable PPE that protects workers on the job — not just PPE at the lowest price.
  3. Issue long-term contracts for both reusable and disposable products to help the industry continue to invest and grow in the United States and become more sustainable.
  4. Map the current U.S. supply chains for essential medical products and utilize the Defense Production Act to expand production of these essential items and their components.
  5. Incentivize the purchase of American-made PPE in the commercial marketplace.
  6. Bolster domestic PPE manufacturing with federal grants, loans and tax incentives to invest in U.S. production.
  7. Designate a point-person who can coordinate the federal response for all PPE contracting and work with U.S. industry and its workforce to help develop the policies necessary to onshore the supply chain long-term.

As a first step toward accomplishing many of the objectives listed above, Congress should adopt the bipartisan American PPE Supply Chain Integrity Act. This bill would apply a comprehensive buy-American requirement to all textile and apparel PPE and health care products purchased by federal agencies.

Our dependency on offshore producers for these critical medical supplies represents a substantial risk to our overall national security and the safety of our nations’ heroic health care providers. It is time to bring PPE back home and end our reliance on countries like China, which has held a destructive dominance of global PPE markets for decades.

The U.S. textile industry and its workforce looks forward to continuing to engage with the administration and Capitol Hill to make sure this onshoring effort is realized. The time to act is now, not when the next crisis looms on the horizon.   

 

Kimberly Glas is president and CEO of the National Council of Textile Organizations.

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