To bolster trust in key technologies, reduce dependencies on China and other foreign adversaries, and strengthen the domestic industrial base, the Cyberspace Solarium Commission is proposing national strategy for the information and communications technology (ICT) supply chain.
The commission on Monday released a new white paper that points to a number of congressional bills, White House executive orders, and department and agency initiatives to manage ICT supply chain risk but says these efforts are “disparate, largely disconnected actions” that will likely fall short.
“However, while these activities are likely to yield some positive outcomes, the lack of a coherent and cohesive overarching strategy to secure America’s ICT supply chains runs the risk of encouraging inefficient uses of time, resources, and money, and ultimately undermining the very purpose behind these fragmented efforts,” says the white paper, Building a Trusted ICT Supply Chain. “In short, in its eagerness to do something to address an obvious challenge, the United States has leaped into action without adequate analysis or a strategic plan.”
The bipartisan commission, which is co-chaired by Sen. Angus King (I-Me.) and Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), outlines three major risks with the current state of the ICT supply chain in terms of dependencies, in particular on China. The first is having reliable sources of supplies that could be blocked in a crisis.
Japan-based Nikkei Asia reported that a Chinese legislative body last Saturday passed a law allowing the government to ban exports of critical technologies to countries that have imposed restrictive export control laws detrimental to China. The U.S. is heavily dependent on China for certain rare earth minerals used in high technology devices and systems.
Pini Althaus, CEO of USA Rare Earth, which is gearing up to mine and process rare earth and other critical minerals in the U.S., said in a statement on Monday that “China has repeatedly threatened to stop exporting those minerals, and the export control law by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) this weekend, aligned with its ‘Made in China in 2025’ initiative, is evidence of their intent to do exactly that. The U.S. government needs to act now and support the development of a domestic rare earth/critical minerals supply chain. What more needs to happen before we take concrete steps?”
The second risk is being able to trust software and equipment produced overseas where they can be compromised, the white paper says. The third risk to dependencies on foreign-made ICT technologies is the threat to the competitiveness and innovation of U.S. companies, it says.
The paper makes five recommendations, including urging Congress to direct the executive branch to develop and implement an ICT industrial base strategy. This recommendation is the same as one the commission proposed in March when it released a 182-page report on a strategy for the nation’s cyber security.
The white paper also recommends that the executive branch, led by the Department of Homeland Security, identify key ICT technologies and materials.
Another recommendation would have Congress direct the Department of Commerce, working with DHS, and the Departments of Defense and State, to analyze localities that would be good areas for clusters of ICT manufacturing and have the government solicit bids from these localities to create three to five clusters nationwide. Included in this recommendation would be “significant and consistent” federal funding for research and development, the creation of incentives for companies to move chip and technology manufacturing out of China, and a White House study on a public-private national security investment corporation that would use private capital to invest in key areas.
The fourth supply chain recommendation calls for the president to designate a lead agency to integrate and coordinate ICT supply chain risk management efforts into a national strategy, create a National Supply Chain Intelligence Center, and have Congress fund Critical Technology Security Centers.
The final set of recommendations calls for the Federal Communications Commission to require interoperable standards in return for investments in 5G infrastructure, and work with relevant federal stakeholders on the release of more mid-band spectrum.
The commission’s proposal for an integrated ICT supply chain strategy follows the release last week by the Trump administration of a national strategy to align federal efforts to promote and protect U.S. innovation and advantages in 20 critical and emerging technologies, including communications and networking (Defense Daily, Oct. 15).