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The Pentagon redirected portions of USD $1 billion fund from Congress meant to aid in procuring medical supplies for the coronavirus pandemic response to purchase military equipment including jet engine parts, body armor, dress uniforms and other military needs, The Washington Post reported on Tuesday.

Defense contractors were awarded "hundreds of millions of dollars from the fund, mostly for projects that have little to do with the coronavirus response" weeks after the USD $2 trillion stimulus package, the CARES Act, was passed in March, according to the newspaper.

Firms like Rolls-Royce and ArcelorMittal received USD $183 million to "maintain the shipbuilding industry" and "tens of millions of dollars" were given for space surveillance, drone and satellite technology, the Post reported. Spirit AeroSystems, Inc., a Wichita, Kansas aircraft parts business, was awarded $80 million and American Woolen Company, a manufacturer of Army dress uniform fabric in Connecticut, was awarded USD $2 million, according to the Post.

Funding for pandemic response

Meanwhile, US health officials are still requesting funding for pandemic response, including $6 billion for states to make vaccines available when they are developed and to address a shortage in N95 masks for hospitals. The Pentagon has also requested that USD $11 billion be provided in a potential new stimulus bill being debated by Congress.

Congress instructed the USD $1 billion in the CARES Act to go to Defense Production Act (DPA) efforts, which permits President Donald Trump to direct US companies to manufacture necessary products, such as personal protective equipment (PPE).

US Coronavirus
USA highest coronavirus deaths in the world. Reuters.

Months after the funding was allocated, department lawyers concluded the money could be used for defense production, including projects that had little to do with responding to the pandemic, the Post reported. Smaller firms received more than a third of the funding for less than USD $5 million, but hundreds of millions of dollars went to several large companies.

At least 10 of about 30 contractors awarded with DPA funding also received money from the Paycheck Protection Program, the Post found.

Ellen Lord, the undersecretary of defence for acquisition and sustainment, defended the actions in a statement to the Post.

"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.

"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," he added.

The Democratic-leading House Committee on Appropriations said in a report that the Defense Department's spending on money allocated from the CARES Act was not distributed as intended.

"The Committee's expectation was that the Department would address the need for PPE industrial capacity rather than execute the funding for the DIB (defense industrial base)," the committee wrote in its 2021 defense bill report.

Defence industry groups said the funding was needed to keep certain contractors in business during the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.