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TSA under fire for reportedly hoarding 1.3 million N95 masks at mostly deserted airports

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Transportation Security Administration officials reportedly hoarded 1.3 million desperately needed N95 masks, even as the airports they manage remained empty.

But despite emerging claims from fact-free leftist zealots (examples below), this fiasco doesn’t appear to be the fault of either President Donald Trump or his top officials.

“The Transportation Security Administration ignored guidance from the Department of Homeland Security and internal pushback from two agency officials when it stockpiled more than 1.3 million N95 respirator masks instead of donating them to hospitals, internal records and interviews show,” ProPublica reported Thursday.

Records reviewed by the left-wing nonprofit show that concerns were raised in early April at a time when hospitals in hotspots such as New York City were genuinely overwhelmed. Yet the concerns were reportedly ignored.

“The agency held on to the cache of life-saving masks even 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,” ProPublica noted.

These findings have emerged thanks to Charles Kielkopf, an Ohio-based TSA attorney who filed a whistleblower complaint Monday in which he accused the agency’s gross mismanagement of being a “substantial and specific danger to public health.”

“We don’t need them. People who are in an infectious environment need them. Nobody is flying,” he said to ProPublica of the hoarded masks.

He wasn’t wrong. The agency reportedly hasn’t required its screeners to wear N95 masks. Instead, screeners have been using surgical masks.

The masks were reportedly sent to the TSA anyway after DHS became aware in late March of 1.5 million expired masks that were lingering in a warehouse in Indiana.

“Department of Homeland Security officials had a conference call Wednesday to figure out what to do with the masks, which are part of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s emergency supplies,” The Washington Post reported at the time.

DHS officials decided to offer the respirators to the Transportation Security Administration, whose workforce has been clamoring for protective equipment, according to three of the people who described the plans on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly.”

This is true.

“A union representing U.S. airport security screeners is urging the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to supply more effective masks to protect against the spread of the new coronavirus,” Reuters had reported earlier that month.

And so when DHS sent the masks to the TSA, it did so with the assumption that they’d be used by the agency’s thousands of screeners. But that never happened.

Seeing as the masks weren’t needed after all, Kielkopf and another TSA official then reportedly urged the agency to go ahead and ship the masks to hospitals in need. For reasons that remain unclear, the agency chose to discount their recommendation.

In a statement to ProPublica, a TSA spokesperson seemed to further suggest that the agency is now purposefully holding onto the masks as a just-in-case option.

The agency’s “highest priority is to ensure the health, safety and security of our workforce and the American people,” he said. “With the support of CBP and DHS, in April, TSA was able to ensure a sufficient supply of N95 masks would be available for any officer who chose to wear one and completed the requisite training.”

Even more disturbingly, the spokesperson claimed the TSA is continuing to obtain more masks: “We are continuing to acquire additional personal protective equipment for our employees to ensure both their and the traveling public’s health and safety based on our current staffing needs, and as supplies become available.”

But why?

“[I]nternal TSA records showed most employee schedules have been ‘sharply abbreviated,’ while an additional 8,000 security screeners are on paid leave over concerns that they could be exposed to the virus,” ProPublica reported.

Plus, airports have been mostly empty:

In an email sent in early April, a top Trump administration official, DHS Deputy Under Secretary for Management Randolph D. Alles, explicitly recommended TSA screeners wear standard cloth masks and “reserve” the N95s for healthcare workers.

“The CDC has given us very good information about how to make masks that are suitable, so that we can continue to reserve medical masks and PPE for healthcare workers battling the COVID-19 pandemic,” he reportedly wrote.

But in a rebuttal email sent two days later, Cliff Van Leuven, the TSA’s federal security director in Minnesota, seemed to blame DHS for the debacle by saying the agency shouldn’t have been sent the masks in the first place.

“I just received 9,000 N-95 masks that I have very little to no need for,” he reportedly wrote. “We’ve made N95s available to our staff and, of the officers who wear masks, they overwhelmingly prefer the surgical masks we just received after a couple months on back order.”

As noted earlier, though, DHS specifically sent the masks because of requests from TSA unions. But upon receiving the masks, the TSA neither supplied them to its agents or shipped them to hospitals in need — instead the agency just hoarded them.

Vivek Saxena

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