What’s Actually Getting Done About Supply Chain Problems

Photo by Gage Skidmore

Despite continued, loud criticism coming from Iowa conservatives, the supply chain problems created by the pandemic in the U.S. are starting to ease.

Most experts say these issues have existed for a long time. The COVID-19 pandemic made them worse. They say most of the issues are also difficult for the government to solve.

To be blunt, there’s not a lot that Congress or the administration can do except around the edges that’s going to have huge effectiveness,” John Butler, President and CEO of the World Shipping Council, told Roll Call. “The market participants really have to work this out.”

However, that hasn’t stopped the Biden Administration from trying, and Iowa legislators have put forward some of their own solutions.

What The Administration Has Done

In November, the passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill provided the resources for real improvements at sea.

Only two Iowans at the federal level supported the measure: Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne and Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley.

Right away, grants and other funding allowed ports to move goods to make room for more shipments and develop projects to clear bottlenecks.

Before that, the government developed the Supply Chain Dashboard to make tracking the backlog smoother. It’s updated every two weeks. The US also increased funding to Mexico and Central America to ease the bottleneck and make the customs and clearance process better.

Earlier this year, Biden instructed some of his officials to review the supply chain and find the places most affected by the global pandemic. He also ordered officials in the Pentagon to release certain materials from the national stockpile as needed.

Because a lot of product transportation issues in the US are private enterprises, there are limitations to what the federal government can do. In October, the White House made a labor deal for ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach, California to shift toward 24/7 operations. 

A lot of the solutions have been small and involved easing or leaving behind some procedures, such as fees for nighttime and weekend port access for truck drivers. Though having enough drivers is still a problem.

We cannot lose sight of the fact that we have under-invested in this system for decades,” the White House said in a November post to its website.

Biden also spoke on it during a Dec. 1 press briefing.

“By working with business and labor, my administration has been able to handle the huge surge in goods moving through some of our biggest ports,” he said. “And that has translated into shelves across our country being well-stocked.”

Solutions aren’t only coming from Biden and the executive branch. 

Congressional Action

Rep. Cindy Axne has introduced or co-sponsored several bills in the House that would ease different issues with the US supply chain.

The Ocean Shipping Reform Act passed the House on Dec. 8 by a wide margin and with support from all of Iowa’s representatives. It will address congestion at ports and prohibit ocean carriers from refusing to pick up US exports on return journeys. 

Other bills would address the shortage of drivers, and promote the training and development of a workforce to manufacture products in America. Another would establish a commission to dive deep into what problems the supply chain has and how best to address them. 

Axne has also pointed at pieces of the Build Back Better Act being considered in the Senate. It has provisions that would fund workforce training, create millions of jobs, lower prices for prescription drugs and health care, and fund child care and housing.

Reps. Ashley Hinson, Randy Feenstra, and Mariannette Miller-Meeks have co-sponsored a bill that would study which products are most in-demand in the U.S. and figure out which can be made here rather than imported. 

Feenstra and Hinson also co-sponsored Axne’s bill about the driver shortage.

Even some candidates have offered solutions.  

Candidate Suggestions

Former-Rep. Abby Finkenauer, one of the Democrats hoping to challenge Grassley for his Senate seat, laid out a series of steps for reducing inflation and improving the supply chain. 

It includes similar measures that have already been introduced, but she listed hiring more truck drivers to move goods in the U.S., using federal property for off-loading so ships can move faster through ports, using the Defense Production Act to manufacture essentials so Americans don’t have to wait, making moves to manufacturing those things in American long-term, and making sure American exports are going out sooner.

 

Nikoel Hytrek
Posted 1/4/22

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