Lawmakers barred from state-owned facility
Three Pennsylvania lawmakers said Governor Tom Wolf’s administration barred their access to a state-owned facility housing a stockpile of personal protective equipment after they refused to sign nondisclosure agreements.
Reps. Seth Grove, R-York; Karen Boback, R-Dallas; and Dan Moul, R-Gettysburg arrived at the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg Wednesday for a personal tour of the PPE supply housed inside.
The governor had in invited them but the doors were locked and no one from Wolf’s administration was in sight. Moul said he anticipated the situation after he and the others refused the governor’s “unreasonable demands” before entering.
“It’s very obvious that the doors are intentionally locked,” he told a group of reporters gathered for event. “When I waved to the security guards [inside] and knocked on the door, they ignored me. I’m sure, due to the governor’s orders, the building is locked down today; and they are not going to let us in.”
Grove called the situation “shameful.” It’s yet another example of why constitutional amendments limiting the governor’s emergency powers are necessary, he said.
“We have a constitutional duty as a legislative branch to provide legislative oversight on executive agencies,” he said. “If we were to see something in here and not report it, we would not be doing our jobs.”
Boback said she hoped the tour would clear up questions she has about the administration’s decision to keep the entire stockpile in one location instead of using the space and security available at nearby Fort Indiantown Gap.
Grove is House State Government Committee chair. Boback is Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee chair. Moul chairs the House Agriculture Committee.
“I have questions and I want answers,” Boback said. “If it’s that important, it’s surveilled there [at the Gap] constantly.”
The lawmakers say they worry about storing the PPE in one location, where fire or flood or theft could leave the state without any supply. Grove said a state statute requires the administration to separate the stockpiles.
It’s also unclear what it’s costing the state to use the Farm Show for this purpose; and whether private storage could prove cheaper and safer.
“Again, a lot more questions than we have answers,” Grove said. “We are more than willing to work through this with the administration.”
The legislators were locked out “every step of the way” Grove said.
Moul said lawmakers talked to two separate sources about a claim that two truckloads of nonmedical grade PPE has been burned at the city’s incinerator in the last few weeks. He said he agreed to keep the sources anonymous to protect their jobs.
“That is one of the reasons we wanted to see what is in this building,” he said. “Why not just come clean? What else are they hiding?”
Taxpayers own the building, he said, and the PPE in the building was paid for by taxpayers. “They have a right to know what this administration is doing,” he said.
Rementer: ‘Conspiracy theories and lies’
Administration spokesperson Elizabeth Rementer, blasted the legislators for what she called “conspiracy theories and lies.”
She told The Center Square that contents and details of the stockpile needed to remain confidential “to not invite threats” against strategic assets. Those assets, she said, help the state address and recover from emergencies.
“We must take reasonable steps to ensure the safety and security of supplies that will allow the commonwealth to address emergencies,” she said in explaining why the department asked legislators to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
Lawmakers were offered a second tour at 3 p.m., she said. Moul said that time would interfere with a House session.
Rementer said nothing requested of the legislators would have impacted or interfered with their oversight.
Longterm storage plans for its $51 million stockpile have been under development for months, the administration said. However, finalizing a more secure location depends upon state and federal funding that has not yet been secured.
“Instead of spreading lies and conspiracy theories, the members who spoke on camera this morning should focus on prioritizing public health and safety as we continue to navigate this pandemic,” she said.
Christen Smith follows Pennsylvania’s General Assembly for The Center Square. She is an award-winning reporter with more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues for niche publications and local newsrooms alike.