As almost every industry has discovered, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted weaknesses in American supply chains. The sudden and severe lock-down on international shipping and materials and components shortages have made it clear how dependent United States consumers are on other countries. A number of U.S. Senators therefore have introduced bipartisan legislation seeking to directly address these weak points. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Chris Coons (D-DE), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), and John Cornyn (R-TX) announced this week that they are co-sponsoring the National Manufacturing Guard Act of 2021, which would create federal resources focused on the security of U.S. supply chains.
Office of Supply Chain Preparedness
The bill would create the Office of Supply Chain Readiness within the Department of Commerce, advised by a Supply Chain Advisory Council. The Director would work to identify “critical resources” – that is, any supply deemed to be essential for the health and safety of American citizens or national security. The Office would then secure the supply chains of those resources from risk.
National Manufacturing Guard
The Act would also establish a so-called National Manufacturing Guard, a “reserve workforce of manufacturing and supply chain experts.” The Guard could be activated in the case of emergencies that threatened the availability of critical resources and would work with industry partners to bolster the manufacturing and distribution of PPE, medical supplies, or other critical, life-sustaining materials.
Supply Chain Data Exchange
The bill would also create a Supply Chain Data Exchange to gather information from industry partners about availability of critical resources.
Finally, the bill would establish the Manufacturing Corps, a “workforce development program” designed to train individuals for employment in manufacturing and ensure a base of qualified personnel for critical resource supply chains, principally as an apprenticeship program.
The National Manufacturing Guard Act would carry a budget of $1 billion for its first five years.
Getting legislation through Congress is a hefty proposition even in politically placid times, and will undoubtedly be even more difficult under the current, notoriously-divided Congress. However, whether or not the bill passes is arguably less significant than the fact that the US federal government is clearly focusing on supply chain blockages and shortages that are impacting US companies and citizens.