Deeming all defense contractors “essential” will be costly

COVID-19 AnalysisDeeming all defense contractors “essential” will be costly

Budget & Tax, National Security,  | Analysis
Mar 28, 2020  | 3 min read | Print Article

Last week we wrote about our concerns that the defense industry’s demands to be considered essential was selfish and risked their talented employees’ health. One of the big industry trade associations wrote:

“…the Administration and DOD should designate national security programs and workforce as essential. Like our citizens that have been asked to continue working at grocery stores, pharmacies, banks, and gas stations to support our communities, our workforce must continue to deliver products and services to our armed services as they continue to protect our security here at home and around the globe;”

Shortly thereafter, DHS complied, and DOD put out direction that this includes contractors, subcontractors, basically everyone who isn’t simply “providing office supplies, recreational support, or lawn care.”

While not purely a budget issue, this policy can have long-felt consequences both to the public health at large and risking the lives of tens of thousands highly trained employees, because many of them are not “essential” right now. What is essential are grocery stores and pharmacies. What’s not essential right now are people assembling more F-35s. That’s why auto manufacturers have shuttered. We’re in full on response mode. Like General Motors, those factories may reopen, but to make ventilators not autos.

Why are we bringing this up again? Because we got an email Thursday night from one of those “essential” workers who had read what I said in a Roll Call article:

I read an article saying you’re fighting for defense contracting companies to not be considered essential. Please. Don’t give up that fight. Hundreds to thousands of people are being told to come in and work until you’re showing symptoms. We work in small closed rooms with no fresh air and facilities can’t come into the closed rooms to clean or mist the rooms. I’m a person in __________ working for a defense contracting company in ________.  I’m terrified to go to work each day knowing I could be infected in anyone of these rooms. We have no onsite food and told to go offsite for food then risking people on the outside. Several of the deaths in __________ have been related to people that work in the defense industry business. Please. Keep fighting for us.  

This is a serious public health issue – we’re teleworking, social distancing, like we’re supposed to. There are some “essential” employees in the Defense Industrial Base – we get that. But there are tens of thousands that are not. These companies need to be responsible public citizens. They are violating a public trust and putting lives at risk for profit.

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