the coronavirus crisis
The team of private-sector and government allies White House adviser Jared Kushner assembled in March to refill coronavirus-depleted federal stockpiles of masks, gloves, and other personal protective equipment included a dozen or so young volunteers recruited by Kushner from private equity, venture capital, and consulting firms. These volunteers, mostly in their 20s and some straight out of college, "had little to no experience with government procurement procedures or medical equipment," The New York Times reports.
"The nature and scale of the response seemed grossly inadequate," one former volunteer, who sent a whistleblower complaint to the House Oversight Committee on April 8, told the Times. "It was bureaucratic cycles of chaos." The small team worked "12+ hour days, seven days per week, but frankly has little to show for it," the complaint said. Key elements were confirmed by the Times and The Washington Post, which first reported the whistleblower's letter Tuesday afternoon.
The temporary supervisor of the volunteers was Rachael Baitel, a former White House assistant to Ivanka Trump, Kushner's wife. The group was supposed to draw on their deal-making skills to vet and follow up on thousands of tips submitted to FEMA or handed down from higher-ups in Kushner's task force, and Baitel instructed the volunteers to give priority to tips from politically connected "VIPs," tracked on a special spreadsheet, according to the whistleblower and documents seen by the Post and the Times.
The VIPs who got special attention included Fox News hosts Brian Kilmeade and Jeanine Pirro — who successfully lobbied to have masks delivered to a favored hospital — a former Apprentice contestant who chairs Women for Trump, pro-Trump activist Charlie Kirk, a Pennsylvania dentist who has mingled with President Trump at Mar-a-Lago, and a California engineer, Yaron Oren-Pines, whose unvetted pledge of 1,000 ventilators led to a $69 million New York State contract debacle. The volunteers blew off a South Carolina doctor who proved he had a line on millions of N95 face masks from China and eventually sent them to state governments and hospitals.
Kushner's effort sidelined seasoned emergency-response officials on the theory that private-sector vim would do a better job than government bureaucrats in an emergency of this scope. "There's an old saying in emergency management — disaster is the wrong time to exchange business cards," Tim Manning, a former deputy administrator at FEMA, told the Times. "And it's absolutely the wrong time to make up new procedures."