State government reporter David Lieb based in Jefferson City, Missouri delivered a distinctive accountability story, finding that U.S. governors’ promises to produce personal protective gear domestically remain unfulfilled, despite tens of millions in taxpayer money to support the proposals.

Stung by short supplies, cutthroat competition and high prices in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, many governors said that they never again wanted to rely on foreign suppliers for masks, gowns, gloves, face shields and other essential protective gear. They pledged at the time to promote the manufacture of that equipment within their own state so they could be ready for the next pandemic: “All this stuff should be made in the United States and not in China,” declared Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Lieb identified at least $125 million in PPE production grants to more than 300 business in 10 states but found that most of the companies were leaving the business because they couldn’t find buyers. Company executives told Lieb that production was again going overseas, potentially putting U.S. supplies of protective gear at risk in the future.

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Angstrom Manufacturing president Chris Carron poses for a photo with machinery the company uses to make surgical masks, in Ste. Genevieve, Mo., March 23, 2022. Angstrom normally makes dental equipment and wanted to expand into personal protective equipment during the pandemic. But regulatory delays forced it to buy another business that already had FDA approval, Carron said. By then, it was fall 2021 — a year after it received a state grant.

AP Photo / Jeff Roberson