Trump Admin Paid Millions For Test Tubes But Received Unusable Mini Soda Bottles
Talking Points Memo reports that since May, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has paid over $7 million to Fillakit for test tubes to use in testing individuals for COVID-19. However, instead of the standard vials, Fillakit LLC has provided plastic tubes normally used in bottling soda, which multiple state health officials say are unusable.
- These plastic tubes are known as “preforms” and are designed to expand with heat and pressure into two-liter soda bottles. Although preforms are sometimes used by elementary school science teachers and amateurs, they do not meet rigorous laboratory standards.
- The tubes do not fit racks used in laboratory analysis. Based on observation by ProPublica reporters, the tubes are also likely contaminated, which would interfere with attempts to preserve and test samples for COVID-19.
- Former employees and ProPublica have observed Fillakit employees, some not wearing masks, dumping the preforms into bins using snow shovels before squirting saline solution into them, all in open air.
- Teresa Green, a retired science teacher who worked for two weeks at Fillakit’s makeshift warehouse outside Houston, said, “It wasn’t even clean, let alone sterile.”
- Officials in New York, New Jersey, Texas and New Mexico have confirmed that they cannot use the Fillakit tubes. Three other states told ProPublica that they received Fillakit supplies but have not distributed them to testing sites.
- According to health officials, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has asked them to find alternative uses for the plastic tubes.
- Janelle Fleming, a spokesperson for the New Jersey Department of Health, said, “We are still trying to identify an alternative use.”
Talking Points writes,
The Fillakit deal shows the perils of the Trump administration’s frantic hiring of first-time federal contractors with little scrutiny during the pandemic. The federal government has awarded more than $2 billion to first-time contractors for work related to the coronavirus, a ProPublica analysis of purchasing data shows. Many of those companies, like Fillakit, had no experience with medical supplies.
The U.S. has lagged behind many European countries in its rate of testing people for the coronavirus, partly because of supply shortages or inadequacies. Epidemiologists say testing is vital to tracking the virus and slowing transmission. In at least one state, the shipment of unusable Fillakit tubes contributed to delays in rolling out widespread testing.
In a written response to questions, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said that “product validation” that contracted medical supplies are effective “is reinforced at state laboratories.”
The Agency did not answer questions about why it asked state officials to find an alternative use for the tubes.
- The Agency signed its contract with Fillakit six days after its founding by Paul Wexler.
- The contract obligation is to provide 4 million tubes. If Fillakit fulfills this, it will receive a total of $10.16 million, of which it has already received $7.3 million.
- In 2012, Wexler and a telemarketing firm he owned faced Federal Trade Commission charges for performing illegal robocalls, misrepresenting itself as a credit counseling service and nonprofit, and charging customers for work it did not do.
- Wexler denied the charges and settled the case in 2013 with a $2.7 million judgment.
- Green, the retired science teacher and former employee, said that managers pressed employees to compromise standards in order to meet productivity goals.
- Wexler and Stephen Wachtler, a manager, “were telling us, ‘Yeah, we gotta have four bins by lunch,’” Green said. “‘We gotta have 10 bins before you leave at 5 o’clock. Work faster, work faster.’”
Wexler declined a request from ProPublica to tour the warehouses.
When ProPublica asked about the use of soda preforms and the unsterile conditions, Wexler screamed, “What’s your problem, man?”