Pentagon defends official’s removal from DPA role

The Pentagon on Friday defended its decision to remove an official from her role as a go-between with private industry in the race to increase medical equipment to fight coronavirus, following reports that the White House ordered the change.

The day prior, Jennifer Santos, the Defense Department’s (DOD) Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Industrial Policy, was abruptly removed from her job to one within the Navy.

CNN reported at the time that the decision was not made by Santos’s immediate boss, the Pentagon’s top acquisition official Ellen Lord. Instead, the order to remove her came from the White House.

Top DOD spokesman Jonathan Hoffman did not say where the decision ultimately came from, only allowing that the department moved Santos to the Navy’s acquisition arm as “she had some capabilities and skills that they thought would be helpful.”

He added that Lord “was aware of a change that was being made,” and that it was an “opportunity” as the Pentagon moves forward with its role in “Operation Warp Speed,” the Trump administration’s push to accelerate coronavirus vaccine development.

Hoffman said the Pentagon can now “identify somebody with a different set of background in manufacturing to work with industry.”

Santos, who had been in the job since June 2019, in the last few months had worked to use the Defense Production Act (DPA) to increase the U.S. supply of ventilators, personal protective equipment and testing materials during the COVID-19 pandemic, which Lord had praised.

In the early months of the pandemic, President Trump appeared hesitant to fully use the DPA — which allows the government to demand its orders be given priority by manufacturers — prompting criticism.

Pressed on whether the change was a sign of a shift in strategy for the administration to obtain medical equipment, Hoffman replied that he “wouldn’t say it’s moving in a new direction.”

“It was just a personnel change that took place and we’re going to take advantage of it to bolster the team the Navy has as well as try to find a different skill set within the [acquisition and sustainment] portfolio,” he said.

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