Saturday, May 16, 2020

Government incompetence unmasked

Governments Have Screwed Up Mask Purchase and Distribution. Maybe Everyone Should Be a Libertarian in a Pandemic | Reason - Brian Doherty:

May 8, 2020 - "As of mid-April, The Wall Street Journal reports, the federal government had for whatever reason dedicated millions in contracts, involving at least 80 percent of the 20 million N95 masks it was trying to procure, from 'suppliers that either had never done business with the federal government or had only taken on small prior contracts that didn't include medical supplies.' Predictably, some of those vendors 'missed delivery deadlines or have backed out because of supply problems'.... At least one would-be contractor has now been nabbed for fraud on such a mask deal.

"ProPublica tagged along with what the Journal called the 'largest N95 mask contract given out by the VA [Veterans Administration], for an initial $35.4 million ... with potential for ... a total of $64.9 million, according to federal contracting data'.... The fiasco ended with no masks delivered — ... Despite months of scrambling, the Veterans Administration was not prepared to keep its hospitals equipped with masks. As of now over 2,000 V.A. employees have tested positive....

"The feds aren't the only ones making bad mask decisions. California is currently trying to get a refund on a $456.9 million wire transfer it sent as a down payment on a $600 million contract for 110 million N95 masks .... to a firm called Blue Flame Medical, which, The Wall Street Journal informs us, was 'founded days earlier by former Republican fundraiser Mike Gula'.... Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reports that Gov. Gavin Newsom of California is refusing 'to reveal the contents of a $990-million contract for purchasing protective masks from a Chinese electric car manufacturer'.... Even the state's legislators are being blocked from learning details of the deal....

"The Transportation Security Agency decided to hoard more than 1.3 million N95 respirator masks (which it received from Customs and Border Protection) rather than distribute them to hospitals or agencies or people who might lack them — even, as ProPublica reported, 'as the number of people coming through U.S. airports dropped by 95% and the TSA instructed many employees to stay home to avoid being infected.'

"Other wasteful, clumsy, or even macabre stories have arisen from government attempts to help with or procure medical equipment. In Seattle, the county Public Health Department sent a Native American community health board body bags instead of requested medical supplies....

"Before COVID-19 hit, certain pundits were promoting 'state capacity libertarianism'.... The idea was, at best, an attempt to turn libertarian energies toward making government better at what it does. But these not-at-all-shocking snafus show no obvious way the concept could help, other than hand-waving calls to have better people making better decisions.

"Mask procurement is not going awry because government lacks the capacity to do anything. They have plenty of money, essentially as much as they want to have, and they have plenty of staff. It's not because they don't have professional experts and bureaucrats trying to manage things, and it's not because Republicans hate government and want it to fail.

"Even in a relatively free market, fraud and incompetence exist. The government in its mask decisions ha[s] shown a keen ability to find market actors who are very bad (deliberately or not) at what they do and offer them ungodly amounts of money. But government's unique combination of endless money and impunity for messing things up mean that the state is going to get things more wrong, more often. And that's true even, or perhaps especially, when it's urgent that the state get things right. The evidence is in the news every day, even if ideological blinders prevent non-libertarians from acknowledging it."

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