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President Trump to invoke the Defense Production Act - So what is it?

President Donald Trump said he would be signing the Defense Production Act on Wednesday, 'in case we need it.' But what is it exactly?
President Donald Trump listens as Vice President Mike Pence speaks during press briefing with the Coronavirus Task Force, at the White House, Wednesday, March 18, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (TEGNA/AP) – On Wednesday, March 18, President Donald Trump announced that he was invoking the Defense Production Act to help fight the novel coronavirus. So what does that mean?

The Defense Production Act (DPA) of 1950 is a federal provision that allows the government to marshal the private sector to ramp up production of certain supplies.

According to FEMA's website, the DPA is the "primary source of Presidential authorities to expedite and expand the supply of resources from the U.S. industrial base to support military, energy, space, and homeland security programs."

In this case, it would allow the administration to expand the supply of resources needed to handle the coronavirus pandemic - amid concerns some doctors and hospitals are already running short on equipment.

The president said he would be signing the provision on Wednesday "in case we need it."

"Right after we finish this conference, I'll be signing it and it's prepared to go," Trump told reporters during the White House coronavirus task force briefing.

According to a 2014 report by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, the DPA was initially passed in response to the Korean War.

The report explains further that through the DPA, "the President can, among other activities, prioritize contracts for goods and services, and offer incentives within the domestic market to enhance the production and supply of critical materials and technologies when necessary for national defense."

The president declined to say during Wednesday's briefing precisely how the act would be used in the government's response to coronavirus.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper has said the government will make up to 5 million N95 masks, along with other protective gear, available from reserves. "The first one million masks will be available immediately," he said.

In response to the pandemic, FEMA is also now at "level one," and activated in every region, according to the White House.

The Defense of Production Act is also conducted in accordance with title VI of the Stafford Act which constitutes the statutory authority for most federal disaster response activities.

On March 13, the White House declared a state of emergency in the U.S. over the coronavirus outbreak. The decision was made to take "preventive and proactive measures to slow the spread of the virus and treat those affected."

The decision allowed the government to take extra measures to protect the public, to trigger anti-price gouging laws, and seek state and federal funding to respond to disaster situations.