(The Center Square) – Three Pennsylvania lawmakers said Gov. 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, at the invitation of the governor, arrived at the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg on Wednesday for a personal tour of the PPE supply housed inside.
But the doors were locked and no one from Wolf’s administration was in sight. Moul, who chairs the House Agriculture Committee, 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, who chairs the House State Government Committee, called the situation “shameful” and said it's yet another example of why constitutional amendments limiting the governor’s emergency powers are necessary.
“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, chair of the Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, said she hoped the tour may 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.
“I have questions and I want answers,” she 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, but every step of the way we are locked out.”
Moul said the lawmakers also heard from two separate sources that two truckloads of nonmedical grade PPE had 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? This building is owned by the taxpayers and the product in this building was paid for by taxpayers. They have a right to know what this administration is doing.”
Elizabeth Rementer, an administration spokesperson, told The Center Square that Republican members of the legislature "must stop with the conspiracy theories and lies."
"The contents of and details our stockpile must remain confidential so as to not invite any threats against the commonwealth and our strategic assets, which are used to help Pennsylvania address and recover from emergencies," she said. "We must take reasonable steps to ensure the safety and security of supplies that will allow the commonwealth to address emergencies, so the members were asked to sign a non-disclosure."
She said the lawmakers were offered a second tour at 3 p.m. – a time that Moul said would interfere with House session.
"It's important to note that nothing that was requested of the legislators would have impacted or interfered with their oversight," Rementer said.
The administration said longterm storage plans for its $51 million stockpile have been under development for months, 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.