A new documentary shining a light on White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner’s handling of the COVID-19 is raising questions about the credibility of his Supply Chain Task Force’s pandemic response over the last several months.
In the forthcoming documentary titled, “Totally Under Control,” Max Kennedy, Jr., also the 27-year-old grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, reflected on his time as a volunteer working for President Donald Trump’s administration in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
“My old boss called me and said he heard Kushner’s task force needed younger volunteers who had general skills and were willing to work seven days a week for no money,” Kennedy said.
Although Kennedy admitted that he was apprehensive about working for the Trump administration, he took the position. When he arrived at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in Washington, D.C., he and others were led to an underground conference room with no windows. TVs blaring news reports from Fox News covered the walls as representatives of FEMA and the military entered to brief the new staff about their positions.
According to Kennedy, volunteers were told that they needed to acquire “stuff” for the government. He soon learned the “stuff” they were referring to was actually personal protective equipment (PPE). After government officials left, Kennedy and other volunteers slowly began to better understand what was transpiring.
“We thought we’d be auxiliary support for an existing procurement team,” Kennedy said in the documentary. “Instead, we were the team.”
Due to the severe shortage of PPE at the beginning of the pandemic, it was up to Kennedy and the volunteer team to find and purchase what the United States needed. Although the Trump and his officials have often blamed Former President Barack Obama’s administration for the PPE shortage and even the initial lack of COVID tests, the documentary reveals the Strategic National Stockpile’s shortage was due to a number of reasons including approximately 12 million of the N95 masks in the stockpile were expired.
The shortage put a strain on many different healthcare systems forcing them to resort to having masks imported which, subsequently cost up to 10 times the amount they would have paid American vendors.
As the pandemic accelerated during the months of March and April, Kennedy and other volunteers, who had little to no experience in the medical field or supply chain management, worked around the clock to procure PPE. From their personal laptops and email addresses, their days consisted of cold calling and emailing to purchase PPE.
“We started cold emailing people we knew who had business relationships in China, looking for factories online, and emailing them from our personal Gmail accounts,” Kennedy said in the film.
Despite their efforts, the procurement process proved to be quite difficult for Kennedy and other volunteers simply because they had no clue how procurement works and, apparently, no one explained the process to them.
In the documentary, Kennedy explained the process he and other volunteers had developed on their own in an effort to simply get the job done.
“We would call factories and say, ‘We think the federal government can send you a check in 60 days,’ and they would say, ‘There’s someone with a briefcase of cash, and they’re offering to pay me right now,’” Kennedy said in the film. “And we would run around the FEMA building looking for someone who could tell us what payment terms the government was allowed to offer, and no one ever told us.”
After about a week on the job, Kennedy revealed he and other volunteers were confronted by government officials and given an ultimatum: sign a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) or leave the premises immediately.
“We all had built our own relationships with manufacturers, and it felt like if we walked away, it would negatively affect our ability to buy this critical, life-saving equipment. And so we all begrudgingly signed the NDA,” he said in the film.
In April, Kennedy opted to quit the task force and broke his NDA by submitting a complaint to Congress regarding Kushner’s task force’s handling of the pandemic.