The U.S. government's disaster response agency placed an urgent request last week seeking contractors who can deliver portable toilets, showers, and hand-washing stations throughout the United States within 24 hours notice, a potential sign of how the administration could be preparing to respond to a coronavirus pandemic.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it was looking for vendors who are able to provide "portable facilities, to include toilets, showers, and handwash stations during a FEMA disaster response to all U.S. state, local, tribal, and territorial government locations," according to a "sources sought notice" the agency posted on the federal public solicitation database on March 3.
Federal agencies publish "sources sought notices" to collect information on potential vendors in a market and they often precede a formal solicitation notice for contractors. Responses were requested by March 26, 2020.
A spokeswoman for FEMA told the Washington Free Beacon that it is "promoting preparedness activities" related to the global spread of coronavirus, which topped 800 confirmed cases in the United States on Tuesday. The agency declined to say directly whether the vendor notice was part of this response effort.
"The federal government is taking aggressive and proactive steps to mitigate the spread and effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19)," said FEMA spokeswoman Janet Montesi. "Consistent with its mission, FEMA has also been promoting preparedness activities and is currently a supporting agency to HHS delivering crisis action planning, situational awareness, reporting, interagency coordination, course of action development, and logistics supply chain analysis through a Crisis Action Task Force located at the HHS Secretary’s Operations Center."
The spread of the virus has prompted mandatory quarantines in New York and other states. New York governor Andrew Cuomo also announced the formation of a one-mile containment zone in Westchester County this week.
Contractors "must be able to deliver to designated disaster locations within the appointed time period, typically 24 hours after award, to any location within the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii to the U.S. Territories," according to the notice.
The handwashing stations "must be available to meet the health and sanitation needs of the shelter population" and "should be located near toilet areas and equipped with soap, disposable towels, and warm water if possible."
The posting also stressed that vendors must be able to deliver the products quickly, within 24 hours of government approval.
"Do you have prior experiences in providing such services with short turn-around requests? Please describe the experience and how it worked out," said the notice.
The federal government has been stocking up on face masks and hand sanitizer since February in response to the coronavirus threat, according to reports.
The National Legal and Policy Center, a government watchdog group, warned the federal government to be aware that emergency situations can often provide an opening for corruption in the procurement process.
"Oftentimes the government must take forceful and extensive measures in a crisis," said Tom Anderson, director of the National Legal and Policy Center’s Government Integrity Project. "While this is necessary it also invites possible corruption and corner-cutting. I hope the proper safeguards are in place for this and future endeavors our government is taking on in order to battle the Covid-19 outbreak."
Italy enacted a nationwide mandatory quarantine on Tuesday as confirmed coronavirus cases in the country exceeded 9,000. People are prohibited from traveling outside their homes for reasons other than work or emergencies.