Defense Production ActUpdated: February 19, 2021
The Defense Production Act was first signed into the United States federal law in 1950, permitting broader executive power in regards to defense and emergency preparedness. Enacting DPA authorizes the President of the United States to implement the production and accessibility of necessary domestic industrial goods and resources for defense and homeland security.
Since 1950, the U.S. government has invoked extensively (over 50 times) and remains active in federal law. The most recent reinstatement was in September of 2019, extending the DPA termination date until Sept. 30, 2025.
How Does DPA Work?
The Act originally had seven titles at the time of its inception. Understanding how authorizations work can be broken into three broader categories:
- At the basic level, DPA gives the President can prioritize business requisition and request for the expansion of materials. Additionally, the President can establish protocols that prevent sellers from unethical practices or exploiting consumers such as price control. Contracts and purchase orders are regulated by a rating system.
- The second power permits the President to reinforce regulations and orders in the effort for national defense and homeland security. Organizations may be ordered to distribute goods and services, establish facilities, and procure equipment.
- The third power allows the President to reinforce protocols for the public economy. Essential goods and services may be rationed and made available to the general population.
- Under the DPA, the President is also authorized to settle labor disputes, provide loan authorities, control consumer and real estate credit, and employ experts or a volunteer pool.
- Contracts and purchase orders are regulated under the rating system. The highest authority is known as “DX” and must be approved by the Secretary of Defense in only extreme situations.
Who Has Authority?
In general, the President of the United States exercises control under the Act and these tasks are then delegated to other departments. The Department of Defense is often involved in DPA as several executive agencies fall under the umbrella of the department, but the House Committee on Financial Services and the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs have legislative jurisdiction.
Other contracts may enlist the Department Office of Strategic Industries and Economic Security (SIES) or the Department of Health and Human Services, depending on what type of authorizations are implemented.
DPA Use in History
Korean War and Cold War
DPA was officially passed by the U.S. Congress in September 1950 after the invasion of North Korea into South Korea. However, events dating back to World War I and the Cold War, later in 1940s, sparked the need for more control over war mobilization and civil defense.
President Harry S. Truman focused his efforts on the steel industry. Much of the original infrastructure and bureaucracy can be attributed to the Truman Administration.
During this time, they established the Office of Defense Mobilization, enforced wage and price control, regulated the steel and mining industry, and began distributing wartime supplies through various manufacturing facilities in the country.
The DPA further established domestic metal industries in aluminum and titanium in the 1950s.
Major development in new technology began in the 1980s under the DoD. The DPA allowed contracts to pool money and resources into several innovative technologies and metal materials.
The Obama Administration invoked DPA in 2011 to defend against cyber-espionage. This move was considered controversial by critics, as the Act allowed the government to force telecommunication companies like AT&T and Verizon to supply information through their hardware and software.
In June 2017, the Trump Administration reauthorized the production and research into aerospace technology. Upon his request, President Trump stated, “technology items affecting aerospace structures and fibers, radiation-hardened microelectronics, radiation test, and qualification facilities, and satellite components and assemblies are critical to national defense.”
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, President Trump invoked DPA on March 18, 2020. Authorizations under the Act immediately spawn the production and distribution of essential medical and health supplies and facilities to combat the highly infectious disease. The President may ask for critical items such as ventilators, masks, gloves, gowns, and testing supplies.
At the time of this writing, President Trump has reserved the authorization of DPA for severe emergency status. It remains to be seen whether or not the President will decide to implement the Act to reduce the U.S. outbreak.
Cristina Van Orden is a literary writer and active military spouse. She holds an MFA from Antioch University and taught K-12 English before working in editorial. Cristina currently resides on base with her husband and children.