President Joe Biden on Wednesday issued an executive order tasking federal departments and agencies with assessing the nation’s supply chains for a number of products and sectors to find ways to make them more resilient and secure to eliminate vulnerabilities that can prevent access to critical goods.
Pointing to recent shortages of personal protection equipment at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and shortages of semiconductor chips for the automotive industry that slowed car manufacturing, a White House fact sheet said that “While we cannot predict what crisis will hit us, we should have the capacity to respond quickly in the face of challenges. The United States must ensure that production shortages, trade disruptions, natural disasters and potential actions by foreign competitors and adversaries never leave the United States vulnerable again.”
Biden is directing a one-year review of supply chains for six industrial bases: the DIB, ICT, public health and biological preparedness, energy, transportation, and agricultural commodities and food production. The reviews will include risks to the supply chains and industrial bases, critical goods used in manufacturing and alternative sources for these materials and goods, workforce skills and gaps, the role of supporting transportation systems, manufacturing locations, and vulnerabilities if there are no domestic capabilities.
The reviews will result in recommendations to secure supply chains and for new research and development efforts. The initial reviews will kick off regular assessments of supply chains, including a quadrennial review.
The order also directs that outside stakeholders be consulted in the reviews, including industry, academia, labor, and state, local, territorial and tribal governments.
The Trump administration had put a focus on supply chain security, mainly by focusing on potential threats from China to critical materials and equipment by imposing tariffs and limiting imports. Last summer, then-President Donald Trump issued an executive order aimed at bolstering the domestic supply of medicine and medical supplies and in May 2019 he issued an order to secure the ICT and services supply chain.
The ICT directive was aimed at Chinese telecommunications companies whose technology is widely used across the world but is viewed by U.S. and allied intelligence agencies as a potential backdoor for the Chinese government to spy on governments and companies.
Last fall, Trump also issued an executive order declaring a national emergency with respect to U.S. dependency on critical minerals from foreign sources, particularly China. These minerals are used in a wide range of applications, including defense.
Around the same time, Trump also issued the National Strategy for Critical and Emerging Technologies to strengthen federal government coordination around promoting and protecting U.S. innovation in areas such as artificial intelligence, advanced conventional weapons, quantum computing and space.
Biden’s directive also kicks off a 100-day federal review of vulnerabilities in supply chains for critical minerals, semiconductors and advanced packaging, APIs, which are used in pharmaceutical products, and large capacity batteries.
“Critical minerals are an essential part of defense, high-tech, and other products,” the fact sheet says. “From rare earths in our electric motors and generators to the carbon fiber used for airplanes, the United States needs to ensure we are not dependent upon foreign sources or single points of failure in time of national emergency.”
Semiconductors are used in a wide range of industries, including defense, and as with critical minerals and other high-technology goods and components, there is bipartisan support to renew American production and sourcing of this technology.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday said he is working on bicameral and bipartisan legislation that will include emergency funding for a semiconductor manufacturing program.
“We cannot rely on foreign processors for the chips,” Schumer said at a press conference. “We cannot let China get ahead of us in chip production.”
Biden on Wednesday met with a bipartisan group of lawmakers at the White House to discuss his new executive order. Afterward, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and who attended the meeting, said he encouraged the president to back his bipartisan legislation, the CHIPS Act, which creates investments and incentives to support U.S. semiconductor manufacturing, research and development, and supply chain security.
“I am encouraged President Biden is prioritizing the protection of critical technologies and look forward to working with his administration to get the CHIPS Act funded as soon as possible,” McCaul said in a statement.