On Wednesday, President Joe Biden invoked the Defense Production Act in response to a nationwide shortage of baby formula. The shortage, caused by mass recalls from the country’s biggest manufacturers over concerns of possible contamination, has prompted widespread outrage and concern among parents.
The situation has become so bad for some parts of America that a government website was created to help parents locate baby formula. With 43% of the country’s most popular baby formula brands sold out, the Department of Health and Human Services established the website to give parents access to resources. The site directs parents to manufacturers’ hotlines to help locate food and offers other resources for concerned parents.
By invoking the Defense Production Act (DPA), the president called on suppliers to provide the ingredients for baby formula to manufacturers before any other clients. It ensures that manufacturers have everything they need immediately to create enough product to meet demand. The move will likely have a knock-on effect on other products that use the same ingredients.
The president also used his authority to direct U.S. military planes to pick up baby formula products from overseas and bring them back to the United States.
What is the Defense Production Act?
The Defense Production Act is a piece of legislation passed by Congress in 1950 at the beginning of the Korean War. Modeled on the War Powers Acts of 1941 and 1942, the new legislation granted additional powers to the president in the event of an emergency or disaster.
The legislation authorizes the president to direct private companies to prioritize the orders for products from particular industries. It also allows the president to set prices and wages.
Under the legislation, the president is also given the power to make purchases and purchase commitments and to even install government equipment in private factories. The legislation aims to ensure that private industry in the United States can be directed to ensure that necessary supplies and products are not in too short a supply.
Former President Donald Trump invoked the Defense Production Act in March of 2020, ordering car manufacturer General Motors to use its equipment to produce ventilators for hospitals overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. Trump also directed meat processing plants to remain open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic over concerns about the nation’s food supply during lockdowns.
More recently, President Joe Biden used his DPA-granted authority to increase vaccine production and help big pharmaceutical companies access necessary materials and equipment.
Jack Buckby is a British author, counter-extremism researcher, and journalist based in New York. Reporting on the U.K., Europe, and the U.S., he works to analyze and understand left-wing and right-wing radicalization, and reports on Western governments’ approaches to the pressing issues of today. His books and research papers explore these themes and propose pragmatic solutions to our increasingly polarized society.