Earlier this year, when word started spreading about a distant and potentially deadly novel coronavirus, our country prepared for the worst. When the virus reached the United States, it spread rapidly. Yet, our hospitals were prepared with the medical supplies they needed to properly treat patients, at least in the beginning. However, after several months, our Nation was using up its Strategic National Stockpile at a rapid rate. The national stockpile includes critical items necessary to provide care to patients, such as medical supplies, personal protective equipment, and drugs, such as steroids and pain medicine.
With the national stockpile decreasing, in March 2020, the Department of Defense established the COVID-19 Joint Acquisition Task Force, or JATF, which was in the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment. According to the JATF website, which lists the program’s mission and COVID-19 resources, the JATF was formed to support the acquisition execution of the DOD's COVID-19 response to interagency partners such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Department of Health and Human Services and their requests for medical resources. The JATF team served as the single entry point to the DOD acquisition enterprise for interagency requests for assistance.
HHS partnered with personnel from within the DOD who have expertise in acquisition and contracting support. Program managers supporting the JATF oversaw seven different product groups to focus on replenishing critical supplies: ventilators, N95 masks, screening and diagnostics, personal protective equipment, pharmaceuticals, vaccine delivery, and continuous renal replacement therapy, known as CRRT.
The JATF was made up of about 80 personnel from within the DOD, many from the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command and its various subordinate commands.
“The JATF's impact was defined by its ability to bring together the broad array of acquisition professionals from across DOD, and USAMRDC played an integral and irreplaceable role,” said Stacy Cummings, Senior Executive Service, JATF lead, principal deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Acquisition.
In the summer of 2020, the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity, a subordinate command of USAMRDC, had three team members supporting the JATF mission. These team members recount their experiences working to restock the medical supply shortage.
Jay Wang, product manager for USAMMDA’s Warfighter Health, Performance and Evacuation Project Management Office, served as the product manager for the CRRT group and technical lead for the pharmaceuticals group from May to September 2020.
“The challenge was building an entire acquisition strategy and developing a requirement fast enough for the public,” said Wang. “People’s lives were on the line the longer they went without these products, and that was always on my mind.”
Wang was well aware of what a mission like the JATF would entail. In 2014, he managed the Ebola drug and served as the subject matter expert on the DOD HHS Ebola team. Although he knew the JATF mission would be a challenge, he was eager to help the Nation restore potentially lifesaving medical supplies.
“Hats off to USAMMDA for encouraging product managers like me to support larger efforts like the JATF. USAMMDA understood that the bigger mission as a whole helps everyone,” said Wang.
Wang oversees three programs at USAMMDA: the Air Medical Evacuation portfolio, the Transport Telemedicine Systems Medical Hands-free Unified Broadcast, and Interoperable Medical Automated Systems, all of which fall under USAMMDA’s Warfighter Health, Performance and Evacuation Project Management Office.
Wang attributes his success in the JATF mission to his 13 years of acquisition training and experience within the DOD. He earned a Master’s degree in program management from the Naval Postgraduate School in September 2019. The support provided to Wang by the DOD and USAMMDA has increased national security through his ability to support the JATF mission. Wang is proud of all he accomplished during the JATF mission.
As product manager for the CRRT, Wang contributed to the rapid acquisition of dialysis systems and dialysis fluids to increase Strategic National Stockpile readiness and increase domestic production of critical medical capabilities to battle COVID-19. He completed market research for CRRT and reviewed over 80 clinical Good Manufacturing Practice companies. He helped develop the CRRT gap analysis and requirement for HHS to identify a possible up to six million liter gap of CRRT fluids. He developed the CRRT Acquisition Strategy. He also authored CRRT contracting documents for HHS Strategic National Stockpile to procure up to $50 million worth of Vendor Managed Inventory of dialysis machines and fluids.
Wang expanded his efforts from the CRRT group to pharmaceuticals. In this product group, he reviewed over 30 Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient white papers resulting in the review of four API proposals to make final recommendations to HHS to increase domestic production of APIs for awards exceeding $150 million.
Another pharmaceutical review team lead was Major Janessa Moyer, director of Force Sustainment, U.S. Army Medical Materiel Agency, who supported the JATF mission from July through September 2020.
“I was able to work with incredibly intelligent professionals that opened my eyes to different perspectives,” said Moyer. “I found it to be not only interesting but also rewarding.”
Moyer led a team of HHS professionals in actively managing and evaluating proposals from industry that outlined Key Starting Material capability both in scope and production rates. Key Starting Materials refer to the foundation, or to any substances of defined quality used in the production of pharmaceutical products. Her team reviewed over 30 proposals from industry outlining their production capabilities and capacity for Key Starting Materials required for domestic pharmaceutical production. In their evaluations, they recommended to HHS four full proposals that showed benefit to domestic Key Starting Material production capability and to increase domestic production of Key Starting Materials for awards exceeding $150 million.
“I appreciated the opportunity to contribute to such an important cause and help address the need for extended capacity and capability within our country,” said Moyer.
Moyer has been serving on active duty for 12 years and is a medical logistician with three years of acquisition experience. During her time working for the JATF, Moyer transitioned from USAMMDA where she served as the product manager for the Warfighter Deployed Medical Systems’ Medical Modernization PMO, to USAMMA where she serves as the director of Force Sustainment. She says chain of command support was critical in balancing the competing demands for her time and effort.
“I was supported in this endeavor by great leaders who afforded me the flexibility to work this mission along with my daily duties,” said Moyer.
Major Victor Zottig, Branch Chief, Regulatory Business Support Office, USAMRDC Office of Regulated Activities, served as a pharmaceutical team lead for the JATF Final Drug Product Fill-Finish Evaluation team from July 15 to September 18, 2020. Zottig helped review and evaluate over 30 white papers from United States domestic pharmaceutical companies. The proposals recommended expanding their fill-finish capacity to produce the Final Drug Product in specific therapeutic areas in order to support the National Strategic Stockpile and COVID-19 response within 24 months.
“I was proud to play a small role in the overall pandemic response,” said Zottig.
Zottig and his team organized and systematically evaluated each proposal independently based on their merit and the established evaluation criteria. The evaluations were consolidated and ranked to provide an overall presentation and recommendation to the JATF leadership. Zottig and his team completed two separate evaluation reviews labeled Spirals, in which the subsequent Spiral called for additional detail from the initial proposal review to go through a second evaluation process. In their evaluations, they recommended to HHS four full proposals to increase domestic production of pharmaceutical fill-finish capabilities, awards exceeding $150 million.
“The dynamic Final Drug Product Fill-Finish Evaluation team was multi-disciplinary and composed of different Services and departments,” said Zottig. “Working jointly with Navy, Air Force, Army, HHS, BARDA, and other organizations I typically do not work with on a daily basis was a unique opportunity and re-affirmed that this effort was a whole-of-government approach. The experience highlighted for me the DOD is well suited to work in a dedicated team environment in order to accomplish difficult jobs or tasks,” said Zottig.
During his time supporting the JATF mission, Zottig was in the middle of transitioning from a product management role at USAMMDA to the USAMRDC Office of Regulated Activities.
“I felt honored that the command placed confidence in my ability to assume this role and level of responsibility on the JATF review team,” said Zottig.
JATF leaders have recognized participating USAMRDC personnel as a tremendous team of professionals who prioritized the interest of the general public while carrying out their assignments.
“USAMRDC's support to the JATF was absolutely critical to the success of DoD's efforts as part of the interagency pandemic response,” said Cummings. “Their subject matter experts are world-class professionals who bring together two very distinct skillsets, combining defense acquisition with medical technology and scientific expertise. This unique combination placed them center-stage in the intersection between the DOD acquisition enterprise and interagency health professionals, and enabled a successful conduit between the two.”
In 2021, the JATF will transition from its current status to a more permanent operation. Next year, the JATF will be called the Defense Assisted Acquisition Cell and will operate under the Joint Rapid Acquisition Cell.
The JATF’s whole-of-government approach, which utilized a variety of services and organizations, was fundamental to improving our Strategic National Stockpile. It is thanks to the individuals who applied their expertise from their daily responsibilities to contribute to the COVID-19 response that our Nation’s medical resource shortage was addressed. Without question, there is no challenge too great for a united force dedicated to the greater good.