In a chaotic market for coronavirus masks, the feds are competition. Here’s how they could help.

….Supply chain experts told USA TODAY that instead of competing with states, cities and agencies like Camacho’s, the federal government should have stepped in from the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, designating a central purchasing authority to distribute supplies nationally based on need.

“In this situation we completely bypassed that opportunity of central coordination and distribution and rather we left it to every state, every individual hospital, every private and public company, everybody to go fight for the scarce resources,” said Nick Vyas, who teaches global supply chain management at the University of Southern California.

“Dentists being recast as logistics experts,” Camacho called it.

USA TODAY asked officials at FEMA whether the administration considered centralized purchasing, but officials would not address those questions. The White House declined to comment Friday.

In response to accusations by some states that FEMA was “commandeering” orders of PPE, the agency said it has no authority to do so. There are, however, mandates that give FEMA and other federal agencies priority over other purchasers.

“The Defense Production Act allows these federal agencies to require private sector vendors to prioritize delivery of critical items to the federal government during an emergency, even if they have to delay or cancel contracts with other customers,” FEMA said in an emailed statement.

Government buyers aren’t used to competing for resources, said Jack Siney, co-founder and CFO of GovSpend.com, which aggregates purchase order data from local, state, and federal government agencies to track what the government buys and how much it spends on goods and services…..

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