As a result of the covid-19 pandemic, the federal government has been wildly scrambling to purchase personal protective equipment for medical professionals and other essential workers. At the top of the list are N95 masks, which is presumably the decision that led the Trump administration to award a $55 million contract to Panthera Worldwide LLC for N95 masks.
The only problem?
Not only does Panthera have no experience with supplying medical equipment, its parent company actually filed for bankruptcy protection in 2019, and one of the owners of the company last year claimed it’d had no employees since May 2018, according to The Washington Post. Apparently, the Post reports, Panthera actually has no record of producing medical supplies of any kind. Incompetent or just plain suspicious?
The homepage of the Panthera website features images of soldiers in tactical gear, an image of a helicopter, and one photo of a silver SUV driving through a frankly unreasonable amount of mud. The “About Us” webpage describes the company like this:
Panthera Training provides elite, scenario-based tactical, aviation and intelligence training and instruction for Defense Department, State Department, Federal Agency and Law Enforcement teams who operate in sensitive environments worldwide, to enable those teams to meet their mission goals and requirements.
Ah yes, sounds exactly like the company you’d reach out to if you were trying to acquire tens of millions of dollars of medical equipment.
James V. Punelli, one of Panthera’s executives, tried to explain away the situation by claiming that the company received the contract because of their connections with the Department of Defense.
“We’ve done [Department of Defense] medical training over the years and through those contacts with that community were brought sources of supply in order to assist in the COVID-19 response,” Punelli said in a text message to The Post. “We made the connection with FEMA and offered these supplies to them.”
Something about that explanation just.... doesn’t sound quite right? It’d be one thing if they had just been asked to work their contacts to set up connections between the government and the actual suppliers of this equipment, but receiving the contract themselves? The situation gets even stickier, as the Post also reported that FEMA was paying Panthera about $5.50 per mask—significantly more than the $0.63 per mask that they pay companies like 3M that are actually known for producing medical supplies.
Chuck Hagel, a former defense secretary, told The Post something was “amiss” about this order. “This is not how the government procures training or any type of supplies,” he said. “You just wouldn’t do business with somebody like that.”
Just an observation, but haven’t people been making comments that sound just like this for, oh, approximately four years? Fascinating.