The Pentagon received $1 billion in coronavirus response aid through the Defense Production Act and diverted millions of dollars to jet engine parts, body armor and dress uniforms, The Washington Post reported

Bill Greenwalt, a visiting fellow with the conservative American Enterprise Institute who oversaw defense acquisitions in the George W. Bush administration, said the pandemic funding “became an opportunity for the department to take what is almost a windfall and use it to try and fill what are some very critical industrial base needs … but that are only tangentially related to COVID.” 

The revelation followed testimony last week by Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who told a Senate panel the U.S. needs $6 billion to distribute a potential coronavirus vaccine. 

There also is a shortage of N95 masks at many U.S. hospitals. Typically the masks are supposed to be disposed of after every patient, but health professionals are now using them well beyond their intended limits. 

“This is part and parcel of whether we have budget priorities that actually serve our public safety or whether we have a government that is captured by special interests,” said Mandy Smithberger, a defense analyst at the Project on Government Oversight. 

The Pentagon, along with defense contractors, has asked for an additional $11 billion to be directed toward defense as negotiations on the next round of coronavirus relief remain stalled.

Instead of medical supplies, the Defense Production Act paid $183 million to Rolls-Royce and ArcelorMittal to stabilize the shipbuilding industry and $2 million to an Army dress uniform manufacturer. In addition, millions of dollars went to satellite, drone and space surveillance technology, as well as $80 million to a Kansas aircraft parts business.

Ellen Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, said Congress and the DOD work closely to meet the needs of both the medical and defense industries.

“We are thankful the Congress provided authorities and resources that enabled the [executive branch] to invest in domestic production of critical medical resources and protect key defense capabilities from the consequences of COVID,” Lord said in a statement. “We need to always remember that economic security and national security are very tightly interrelated and our industrial base is really the nexus of the two.”

Under the Defense Production Act, the Pentagon receives annual funding to shore up companies in critical condition. In 2020 the allocation was about $64 million and the money was dispersed by the Pentagon’s industrial policy office.