CLAIM: The Obama Administration set up the Trump administration with plans for dealing with a future pandemic.
VERDICT: FALSE The Obama Administration depleted the National Strategic Stockpile of N95 masks and other critical equipment and never replenished it, despite warnings from experts, forcing the Trump Administration to rush to produce and obtain them in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claimed Wednesday during the Democratic National Convention that the Obama administration had set up the Trump administration with “so much,” including plans to deal with a future pandemic.
After the last election, I said, ‘We owe Donald Trump an open mind and the chance to lead.’ I really meant it. Every president deserves that. And Trump walked into the Oval Office with so much set up for him: A strong economy. Plans for managing crises—like a pandemic.
However, what the Obama Administration really set up for the Trump administration with was a depleted National Strategic Stockpile.
As an April 4 USA Today article noted, the National Strategic Stockpile was established in 1999 to prepare the country for threats like pandemics, natural disasters, and acts of bioterrorism. The stockpile is managed by the Departments of Defense and Health and Human Services.
The outlet reported that the Obama administration distributed 75 percent of its N95 respirators and 25 percent of face masks but never replenished the supply:
During the presidency of Barack Obama, the national stockpile was seriously taxed as the administration addressed multiple crises over eight years. About ’75 percent of N95 respirators and 25 percent of face masks contained in the CDC’s Strategic National Stockpile (∼100 million products) were deployed for use in health care settings over the course of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic response,’ according to a 2017 study in the journal Health Security.
Again according to NIH, the stockpile’s resources were also used during hurricanes Alex, Irene, Isaac and Sandy. Flooding in 2010 in North Dakota also called for stockpile funds to be deployed. The 2014 outbreaks of the ebola virus and botulism, as well as the 2016 outbreak of the zika virus, continued to significantly tax the stockpile with no serious effort from the Obama administration to replenish the fund.
ProPublica reported on April 3 that congressional budget battles in the early years of the Obama administration contributed to stockpile shortages. But the article notes available funds were used not to replenish masks: “With limited resources, officials in charge of the stockpile tend to focus on buying lifesaving drugs from small biotechnology firms that would, in the absence of a government buyer, have no other market for their products, experts said. Masks and other protective equipment are in normal times widely available and thus may not have been prioritized for purchase, they said.
The article concluded:
“There is no indication that the Obama administration took significant steps to replenish the supply of N95 masks in the Strategic National Stockpile after it was depleted from repeated crises. Calls for action came from experts at the time concerned for the country’s ability to respond to future serious pandemics. Such recommendations were, for whatever reason, not heeded.”