New DHS supply chain center aims to head off future crises

The Department of Homeland Security will more proactively address threats to critical goods and services through a new Supply Chain Resilience Center, part of a bevvy of supply chain actions announced by the Biden administration this week.

The White House on Monday convened the first meeting of the Council on Supply Chain Resilience, announcing nearly 30 new actions, including plans to use the Defense Production Act to invest in the domestic manufacturing of essential medicines and efforts to advance cross-governmental supply chain data-sharing capabilities.

The Supply Chain Resilience Center at DHS will initially focus on risks stemming from “threats and vulnerabilities inside U.S. ports,” the White House said.

Organizationally, the center will sit under DHS’s Office of Strategy, Policy and Plans, reporting to Under Secretary for Policy Robert Silvers and Christa Brzozowski, the acting assistant secretary for foreign investment and trade policy.

In a release, DHS says the center will identify supply chain vulnerabilities and develop solutions to mitigate those threats.

“This includes evaluating the risks to ports posed by adversarial nation state threats, overreliance on untrustworthy equipment subject to nation-state control, data extraction, insider risk, and unvetted virtual and physical access,” DHS says. “The SCRC will closely collaborate with port authorities and operators, shipping, transportation, logistics, and other industry stakeholders, and the U.S. Department of Transportation to conduct its analysis.”

In the coming weeks, DHS says Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas will hold a roundtable with representatives from ports and cargo industries, as well as importers and exporters, to get feedback on the new center’s work.

The center will be staffed by personnel from DHS headquarters, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. Those personnel will have “intimate supply chain knowledge and expertise” and “be in regular contact with industry and other stakeholders,” DHS says in its release.

The idea for the center comes from the Homeland Security Advisory Council. In March, the council’s Supply Chain Security Subcommittee delivered a final report to Mayorkas detailing the idea for the center, among other recommendations.

Such a center, the subcommittee reports, could “aggregate and disseminate information across the department, as well as the broader U.S. government and private sector, about critical supply chain vulnerabilities and disruptions that can have a disproportionate negative effect on the U.S. economy, the livelihood of American citizens, or protection and continuity of U.S. critical infrastructure.”

The subcommittee’s report points to recent supply chain challenges as examples of where the center could fill gaps. For instance, the report suggests the center could have helped find solutions to the shipping container backlog at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach that became emblematic of post-COVID-19 supply chain challenges.

And when the country faced shortages of supplies like computer chips and baby formula, the council’s report says the center could have worked to “prioritize rapid but safe processing of such imports already in queue to be unloaded into the United States.”

In its release, DHS says the new resilience center will work with other federal agencies, industry partners and foreign governments to run “at least” two tabletop exercises in 2024 aimed at testing the “resilience of critical cross-border supply chains.”

“Future analysis and recommendations will include reservation systems, logistics management platforms, and data production,” DHS says in its release. “This work will complement other ongoing agency efforts to address port security vulnerabilities, including our shared interest in reducing cyber-related risks from different sources, including untrusted or unauthorized access.”

DHS also plans to work closely with the Commerce Department to strengthen the semiconductor supply chain and continue to implement the CHIPS and Science Act.

Under the actions announced by the White House this week, Commerce plans to set up its own Supply Chain Center, which will bring together “industry expertise and data analytics to develop innovative supply chain risk assessment tools, and is coordinating deep-dive analyses on select critical supply chains to drive targeted actions to increase resilience.”

Commerce’s new center will specifically work with the Energy Department on a “deep-dive analysis on clean energy supply,” while also working with the Department of Health and Human Services to review “industry and import data that can help address foreign dependency vulnerabilities and points of failure for critical drugs.”

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