During the Wednesday press briefing at the White House, President Trump said he would invoke the Defense Production Act to ensure availability of medical supplies and other essentials during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In the executive order, Trump uses the act to obtain “health and medical resources needed to respond to the spread of COVID-19, including personal protective equipment and ventilators.” This order gives the primary authority of “determining […] the proper nationwide priorities and allocation of all health and medical resources, including controlling the distribution of such materials (including applicable services) in the civilian market” to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. 

The act is characterized as “the primary source of presidential authorities to expedite and expand the supply of resources from the US industrial base to support military, energy, space and homeland security programs” by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). 

Originally, the 1950 act was in response to the Korean War but has since been used in non-wartime situations including by President Trump to provide technology for the space industrial space, President Obama to force telecommunications companies to disclose equipment specifications, and by the DOD in the 1980s as a way to seed new technologies including superconducting wires and microwave power tubes.