The ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic is showing that global supply chains don’t always work in a country’s favor during a crisis, and the Department of Homeland Security has a role here including in helping to understand the origin of critical supplies, a former government official that is part of a task force advising DHS, said last week.
A lesson from the COVID-19 crisis is “a global supply chain is great for efficiency but when something unexpected and very bad happens, you can’t always count on a global supply chain to work in your national interests,” Stewart Baker, a lawyer with Steptoe and Johnson and former DHS policy chief general counsel with the White House National Security Agency, said last Thursday. “So, you have to ask the question that, ‘Where am I getting the things that I will depend on in an emergency?’”
Baker was speaking during a teleconference of the Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC) to update the group on the progress of the Economics Security Subcommittee, which was created in February by Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf. The subcommittee, which is chaired by Frank Cilluffo, a homeland security expert and director of the McCrary Institute at Auburn Univ., is tasked with reviewing the department’s authorities related to economic security and making recommendations to ensure it is appropriately organized and resourced for this aspect of its responsibilities.
Cilluffo said his subcommittee plans to provide a report this fall that will provide a roadmap for the new economic security portfolio that is now part of the DHS Office of Strategy, Policy and Plans. The task force has received seven briefings so far, including from the DHS Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and from outside intelligence on various threat actors including China and Russia.
The supply chain is one of the areas the subcommittee is addressing, including regulatory authorities, DHS “equities,” particularly with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States and Team Telecom, which was formally established in April by the Trump administration to assess foreign participation in the U.S. telecommunications sector.
Baker, one of the subcommittee’s vice-chairs, highlighted that “DHS clearly is a central player in asking the question “’What do we need from our supply chain in an emergency and how do we make sure that we truly have economic security even in a crisis?’”
The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted supply chain challenges and the lack of adequate domestic production for some healthcare equipment when it is urgently needed.
Baker said the DHS policy office can provide “perspective” and “strategic guidance” for all of government on the nation’s long-term supply chain needs.
Robert Rose, the other vice-chair on the panel, and who is also chairing a separate subcommittee on Information and Communications (ICT) Technology Risk Reduction, said during the HSAC meeting that his panel is looking closely at how to mitigate ICT supply chain risk and said the work is “very complementary” to Cilluffo’s subcommittee.
Rose, who runs his own consulting firm, said the ICT subcommittee is “looking at how to increase security of ICT products and better using the full suite of cyber security and law enforcement trade and customs authorities to identify supply, and reduce, ICT risks.”
Cilluffo said the Economic Security Subcommittee isn’t “trying to boil the ocean here” but to come up with recommendations that in the short-term are achievable and “set us up for success in the long-term.”