AP Explains: What exactly is the Defense Production Act?

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar speaks, with Vice President Mike Pence behind him, during a briefing about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Sunday, March 15, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Donald Trump on Wednesday invoked a Korean War-era law as part of his response to the coronavirus pandemic, aiming to boost private industry production of supplies needed for the health crisis.

The Defense Production Act of 1950 was signed by President Harry S. Truman amid concerns about supplies and equipment during that war. It's been invoked multiple times since then to help the federal government for a range of emergencies including war, hurricanes and terrorism prevention.

Trump, referring to himself as a “wartime president,” said he would use the law's powers “in case we need it” as the country braces for an expected surge in the number of coronavirus cases and a strain on resources.

A look at the Defense Production Act:

WHAT IT DOES

The act gives the federal government broad authority to direct private companies to meet the needs of the national defense.

Over the decades, the law's powers have been understood to encompass not only times of war but also domestic emergency preparedness and recovery from terrorist attacks and natural disasters.

The act authorizes the president to require companies to prioritize government contracts and orders seen as necessary for the national defense, with the goal of ensuring that the private sector is producing enough goods needed to meet a war effort or other national emergency.