Gov. Gavin Newsom this week defended California’s decision to purchase hundreds of millions of protective masks from a Chinese firm after questions were raised about its track record of delivering allegedly faulty products.
Newsom said all protective equipment shipped by the company — known as BYD — would be required to pass federal standards, including those set by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH.
“We will not be procuring any products that don’t meet FDA approval, NIOSH approval, that do not meet our contractual approval,” Newsom said Monday at his daily COVID-19 press conference. “We have a contract that I’ll put up against any other in terms of our capacity to make those assessments in real time.”
Last week, Newsom announced the $1.4 billion deal to purchase 200 million medical masks each month and other personal protective equipment, or PPE, for health care workers and other employees on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis.
Days after the announcement, a Vice News investigation found what it called “glaring red flags” on BYD’s record, “including a history of supplying allegedly faulty products to the U.S.” It reported that the company had delivered ineffective and potentially dangerous products to California communities, including battery-powered buses, forklifts and trucks.
BYD, which has offices in Los Angeles, did not return a request for comment.
The concerns published by Vice News were amplified this week by former GOP congressman Doug Ose of Sacramento, who questioned the deal on Twitter, saying “I hope our leaders are only doing business with #PPE suppliers who have been properly vetted. It would be infuriating to see the govt #procurement process reward foreign or domestic bad actors at high prices if other suppliers are available. #BuyAmerican if possible.”
Sacramento Democratic Rep. John Garamendi, who helped draft legislation last year that bans federal funds from being used to buy BYD electric buses, also questioned the deal.
“What the hell? What is our government doing?” he told Vice News. “They may very well flood the market with substandard devices and people will be relying on them as though they are of satisfactory quality, and that is bizarre.”
The state's emergency services director called BYD’s problems with electric buses “really separate” from the deal to provide masks.
Speaking at the governor’s press conference last week, Mark Ghilarducci, director of the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services, said BYD has undergone “extensive vetting” both by the state and by private U.S.-based companies that rely on it for PPE.
“So far, there has been nothing that we have been able to find,” Ghilarducci said, “that would indicate or suggest otherwise that they cannot deliver.”
The state has yet to release a copy of its contract with BYD despite requests from state lawmakers and news outlets, including CapRadio. Ghilarducci said yesterday that the document would be released after final language was completed.
Many California lawmakers did not know about the massive deal until Newsom announced it last week on MSNBC’s "The Rachel Maddow Show."
A letter sent last week from Democratic state Sen. Holly Mitchell, chairperson of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, to the Newsom administration underscored lawmakers’ search for more details. The committee approved the expenditures, but established a series of requirements to disclose more information about the contracts — including the price per mask, quality standards of the equipment and details about the manufacturers.
The committee also required the administration to establish a website by early this week that tracks California’s inventory of protective equipment and where it is sent throughout the state.
No such website had been made public as of Tuesday afternoon.
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