Pentagon COVID-19 Funds Went to Rolls-Royce, Jet Engines: Report

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Getty An overhead photo of the Pentagon (right) and U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper (left)

The Pentagon was granted $1 billion in coronavirus relief funds in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed in late March for protective equipment, testing and other pandemic-related causes.

However, The Washington Post reported that much of that money was spent on weapons, surveillance, body armor and other non-pandemic relief items, leading to multiple Congressional investigations.

Here’s How the Pentagon Spent COVID-19 Relief Funds

Under the CARES Act, the U.S. military was authorized to spend $1 billion under the Defense Production Act for coronavirus response. The CARES Act also allocated $160,300,000 for the Army, $360,308,000 for the Navy, $90,000,000 for the Marine Corps and $155,000,000 for the Air Force “to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus, domestically or internationally.

The Washington Post reported that although some CARES Act funds were spent on masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE), “$688 million was ultimately allocated towards the defense industrial base, mostly for projects that have little to do with the coronavirus response,” such as:

  • $183 million on contracting firms such as Rolls-Royce and ArcelorMittal for shipbuilding
  • $80 million for Kansas aircraft parts
  • $2 million for Army dress uniform fabric

The Post also reported that tens of millions of dollars were used for “satellite, drone and space surveillance” equipment.

The Military Has Struggled With Cases & Suicides During the Pandemic

News of how the Pentagon funds were spent arrived at as the military deals with coronavirus outbreaks on military bases and a striking rise in the rate of military-personnel suicides which some have speculated are pandemic-related.

Military news sites reported that coronavirus clusters were found at Fort Jackson in South Carolina with 50 cases and the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, California. Military Times reported that the Department of Veterans Affairs reported 60,000 coronavirus cases since the pandemic began.

Military Times also reported that coronavirus survivors have been banned from enlisting, according to memo that was released on Twitter. According to that memo, “During the medical history interview or examination, a history of COVID-19, confirmed by either a laboratory test or a clinician diagnosis, is permanently disqualifying …”

Suicide rates, which have been a top priority for Pentagon officials for decades, have also risen sharply, according to the United States Naval Institute. The Defense Suicide Prevention Office’s director, Karen Orvis, told reporters that she was “very concerned with the trends in the military” and reported “a statistically significant increase” in active duty service members from 2014-2019.

The Associated Press reported that military suicides had increased 20% during coronavirus, with the Army seeing the biggest spike of 30% this year compared to 2019. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy was cautious about blaming coronavirus but told the AP that suicides and other violent behavior has shown an increase during this specific era. “We cannot say definitively it is because of COVID,” he said. “But there is a direct correlation from when COVID started, the numbers actually went up.”

Multiple Congressional Committees Are Now Investigating the Pentagon’s Use of COVID-19 Relief Funds

James Clyburn, the chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis; Maxine Waters, the chairwoman of the Committee on Financial Services; Carolyn Maloney, the chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform; and Stephen Lynch, the chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security signed onto a letter sent to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, demanding an explanation for how Pentagon funds were used.

Here is the opening paragraph of the letter :

We are investigating whether the Department of Defense (DOD) inappropriately used hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars appropriated by Congress in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. These funds were intended to prioritize the domestic production and distribution of urgently needed medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE)—many of which are still in short supply—but DOD has reportedly diverted a significant portion of these funds to provide lucrative contracts to defense contractors for non-medical projects. As Congress considers additional coronavirus relief legislation, Americans deserve to know that the Trump Administration is following the law and using relief
funds for their intended purpose—to aid the nationwide pandemic response.

In their condemnation of how funds were used, the letter’s authors cited the Washington Post’s reporting. The authors also dismissed the Department of Defense’s rationalization that the funds were diverted to “(offset) financial distress,” and demanded the department release documents to show how the department was attempting to obtain PPE, testing and other pandemic-related supplies by October 16.

The letter noted, “To date, DOD has not produced the requested projections on supply and demand for PPE and testing supplies.”

You can read the full letter here.

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