In the three months leading up to the year’s biggest defense bill, a group of representatives plan to come up with ways Congress can change the law to better the nation’s most important supply chains.
The Defense Critical Supply Chain Task Force is a bipartisan effort created by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.). It’s comprised of eight lawmakers and co-headed by Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) and Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.).
The task force will finish up around June with a report and recommendations for bettering the means of production.
During a Wednesday roundtable with reporters, Slotkin said the lack of masks and other protective equipment during the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic showed the weaknesses in the United States’ supply chain.
“That was quite literally my experience last May when we had an order from the state of Michigan trying to make its way to our hospitals and the political vulnerabilities played out in the customs officials and when they decided our stuff could be loaded onto ships and moved out,” Slotkin said. “I think there are a ton of these that exist around the defense industrial base and we are going to work with the Defense Department on where they are.”
One challenge the task force will face is the upcoming budget is likely to be flat, meaning the larger committee will have to make tradeoffs between systems on the Defense Department’s wish list and ways to open up production.
Slotkin and Gallagher both said they weren’t afraid to cut into fatty parts of the Defense budget in order to get their jobs done.
“This is part of a much bigger conversation and debate about what to do about the topline of the budget and how to spend our money and make sure some of the legacy systems that need to be off ramped are off ramped,” Slotkin said. “I’m not going to shy away from making recommendations that assume appropriations, that’s how things tend to work around here, so we’ll have to look at the associated tradeoffs.”
Gallagher noted that China is dominant in drone, electronic and microchips manufacturing. Chinese companies like Huawei and ZTE are also getting ahead in establishing 5G.
“China could effectively shut off our ability to procure the building blocks of the advanced technologies that drive our national defense in our civilian economy,” he said.
The task force chairs noted that while they would like to see the manufacturing come back to the U.S., sometimes it is simply about creating redundancies in case a relationship with a supplier goes south.
Slotkin said the task force would like to work in tandem with companies by rewarding for working with the United States, rather than forcing a company to work for U.S. interests.
The task force is working in parallel with the White House’s 100-day review on global supply chains. It is focusing on computer chips, large capacity batteries, critical minerals used in electronics and pharmaceuticals.
The Defense Department is also conducting its own review of pharmaceuticals used by troops at the behest of Congress.
In response, DoD and the Department of Health and Human Services awarded a more than $60 million contract to develop a domestic production capability for critical active pharmaceutical ingredients. Another $20 million contract was awarded to develop a domestic production capability for critical active pharmaceutical ingredients.
Brig. Gen. Dr. Paul Friedrichs, the Joint Staff surgeon, said recently that DoD is still assessing the issue.
“We looked at the operational medications that we rely on and are deployed assemblages, and identified which ones rely on ingredients from other countries,” Friedrichs said. “We are working with the Food and Drug Administration to obtain ingredients for those where we’ve not been able to identify the source of origin. The next step is to understand fully through the global supply chain, where all of the ingredients come from, and ensure that pharmaceutical companies are able to share that information with us so that we can then identify what risks there is to those medications in our deployable assemblages.”