WASHINGTON – President Trump on Tuesday invoked the Defense Production Act, a wartime authority that allows him to direct industry to produce critical equipment, to confront the spiraling crisis over coronavirus pandemic.

The act was established in 1950 during the Korean War following war powers legislation used during World War II to direct private industry to produce weapons, vehicles and other materiel for war. At that time, automakers in Detroit, for instance, shifted production from automobiles to tanks.

The act gives the president a broad set of authorities to influence private companies for national defense, according to the Congressional Research Service. In 2009, Congress amended the act to include domestic preparedness and national emergency response efforts. 

"The Defense Production Act permits the president to push national security items to the front of the line, rather than following items that were previously ordered," said Loren Thompson, a defense industry consultant and military expert at the Lexington Institute. "It exists to speed up urgently needed items."

Sen. Jack Reed, the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, said the authority is needed now for fast production of ventilators and other medical equipment needed to treat patients critically ill with the disease.

Reed criticized Trump for not acting faster.

“Instead of preparing and mobilizing for this pandemic, President Trump tried to downplay it," Reed said in a statement. " As a result, America is not as ready as we should be.  In France, factories that once manufactured fancy perfumes are starting to churn out needed hand sanitizer instead.  You can’t do these things overnight.  It takes planning and coordination.  President Trump is finally taking needed steps, but we’ve got to do more."