Companies see the outbreak as a chance to cash in, do some good, or both. Among the early winners: the Washington influence industry.
By Kenneth P. Vogel
WASHINGTON — The federal government is open for coronavirus business, and the scramble to get some of it is on.
A South Carolina company has hired a lobbyist close to President Trump to try to win regulatory approval to sell a misting spray to kill coronavirus on airplanes. A Manhattan company is seeking money from the $2 trillion stimulus package for its quick-change recyclable hospital curtains. Two prominent and well-connected Republican fund-raisers have linked up with competing businesses, both claiming to be able to acquire coveted equipment like coronavirus test kits and masks.
Across the country, companies see a chance to cash in, do some good for the country or both, making virus outbreak response one of the few thriving sectors of the economy. And because so much of the business runs through Washington, the rush has created new opportunities for those who can offer access, influence and expertise in navigating bureaucratic hurdles and securing chunks of the relief package Mr. Trump signed into law on Friday.
The boomlet has left the federal agencies responsible for regulating cleaning supplies, medical devices and medicines working overtime on requests to certify products for use in coronavirus response — and to clamp down on fraud.
The Food and Drug Administration has been processing a surge in applications for coronavirus vaccine and treatment trials. But the agency also has spent considerable time and resources fighting what it calls “fraudulent Covid-19 products.”
Likewise, the Environmental Protection Agency has been cracking down on unregistered products claiming to kill coronavirus, and processing requests to list various disinfectants as approved to kill the virus on surfaces.
“I was on the phone earlier with E.P.A. today, and we’re both working 24/7,” said Hal Ambuter, who leads North American regulatory and government affairs for the British consumer-product maker Reckitt Benckiser, which makes Lysol disinfectants.
The company has been working with the E.P.A. to add more of the brand’s products to a list of disinfectants approved to kill coronavirus on surfaces. “There is a lot of work in our side, and there is a lot of work on their side to handle the volume of requests that have come in,” he said in an interview on Friday.
The company’s outside counsel, Benjamin Dunham, lobbied Congress on provisions included in the stimulus bill, which included $1.5 million for the E.P.A. to facilitate faster regulatory processing of coronavirus-killing disinfectants.
Reckitt Benckiser has paid Mr. Dunham’s firm $30,000 so far this year, according to a lobbying report filed this week. It indicated that a focus of his lobbying was increasing E.P.A. funding “to expedite registration actions involving disinfectant products that are effective against” coronavirus.
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