California lawmakers want details on Newsom’s big mask buy

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California lawmakers want a fuller accounting of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to buy 500 million protective masks, with a top budget official on Thursday seeking details on how the state will distribute the masks and ensure they are good quality.

In a letter to Newsom’s finance director, state Sen. Holly Mitchell asked for details on the contract Newsom is executing to buy 200 million masks per month through an American subsidiary of a Chinese company. Newsom announced the deal Tuesday, April 7th and asked lawmakers for authority to quickly spend some of the money needed to purchase the masks.

In total, Newsom expects to spend nearly $1 billion on the masks. The state plans for the first shipment to arrive in early May, and the initial contract will last 2 1/2 months, said Brian Ferguson, spokesman for the Office of Emergency Services.

Lawmakers gave Newsom approval to spend more state money in response to the new coronavirus last month before halting their session over concerns about spreading the virus. He’s using that authority and tapping other disaster preparedness funds to increase the state’s supply of personal protective equipment desperately needed by health care workers.

But Mitchell, chair of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, said Newsom needs to be more transparent with lawmakers about the spending. She asked for details such as what performance standards would be used for the manufacturer of the masks, the price per mask, and production and delivery timelines. Lawmakers also announced plans to hold oversight hearings on coronavirus spending.

“Under normal circumstances, the Legislature would have had more time to deliberate an expenditure of this magnitude and would have been allowed to thoroughly vet the details of the contract before proceeding,” Mitchell wrote to Newsom’s finance director.

Lawmakers have yet to see a copy of the contract that Newsom’s office signed with BYD North America, the Los Angeles-based subsidiary of a Chinese company.

Days after the announcement, a Vice News investigation found what it called “glaring red flags” on BYD’s record, “including a history of supplying allegedly faulty products to the U.S.” Vice News reported that the company had delivered ineffective and potentially dangerous products to California communities, including battery-powered buses, forklifts and trucks.

The concerns published by Vice News were brought up by former GOP congressman Doug Ose of Sacramento, who questioned the deal on Twitter, saying  “I hope our leaders are only doing business with #PPE suppliers who have been properly vetted. It would be infuriating to see the govt #procurement process reward foreign or domestic bad actors at high prices if other suppliers are available. #BuyAmerican if possible.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom this week defended California’s decision to purchase hundreds of millions of protective masks from a Chinese firm after questions were raised about its track record of delivering allegedly faulty products.

Newsom said all protective equipment shipped by the company known as BYD would be required to pass federal standards, including those set by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH.

“We will not be procuring any products that don’t meet FDA approval, NIOSH approval, that do not meet our contractual approval,” Newsom said Monday at his daily COVID-19 press conference. “We have a contract that I’ll put up against any other in terms of our capacity to make those assessments in real time.”

Doug Ose, Chairman of Rebuild California Foundation talked to Good Morning San Diego to further question the deal made with BYD.

Categories: California News, Coronavirus, Good Evening San Diego, Good Morning San Diego, Politics