New York City auctioned off $200 million worth of COVID-19 pandemic supplies for just a fraction of what the city paid for the items, according to a new report.
The city of New York brought in just under $500,000 for the materials, which included N-95 masks and breathing devices known as “bridge vents," according to the New York City outlet the City.
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The ventilators, which taxpayers spent $12 million on, were sold for less than $25,000 total, according to the report. Another auction found bidders winning materials for $194,000 that the city paid almost $1 million for.
Former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) once touted the bridge ventilators as achieving the "impossible," and its creation was considered a major advancement during the pandemic.
“This is a story about doing the impossible,” de Blasio said in April 2020. “We’d never made a ventilator before — and so we made thousands. We learned it would take a year — and so we did it in a month.”
Critics blame de Blasio's panic purchasing for the overspending. De Blasio allegedly waived off any oversight on the purchases, preventing then-Comptroller Scott Stringer from researching or approving contracts. This included a $9.1 million contract that resulted in ventilators that a company failed to deliver. The company also delivered faulty N-95 masks. Other items had expiration dates.
The report also revealed that de Blasio overspent by a significant amount on items that were being sold through other companies for less. For example, the company Digital Gadgets had charged New York twice as much for COVID-19 test kits as other companies.
An internal email showed that city officials in the Department of Citywide Administrative Services were concerned that if the public found out about the overspending, it would cause an investigation. DCAS spokesman Nick Benson told the outlet that the spending was necessary to create a 90-day stockpile of supplies.
“Thankfully, New Yorkers and our heroic front-line medical workers came together to avert some of the worst-case scenarios,” Benson said.
Auctioning off surplus supplies after 90 days is mandated in the city charter.
“That’s just a bad rule,” New York City Mayor Eric Adams (D) said. “COVID created an environment that none of us expected, and so we had to purchase far more than what we would have traditionally purchased. So, somewhere in the charter rule, we need to state that under certain circumstances, we are not forced with, ‘Hey, it’s 90 days. Let’s get rid of this stuff no matter what the cost is that’s associated with it.'”
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Extra equipment that could not be sold off is being donated to other countries, Benson said, including Ukraine, Indonesia, Ghana, Haiti, and South Africa. Others are being donated to nonprofit organizations.