Lawmakers push for new defense supply chain strategy

The House Armed Services Committee's Defense Critical Supply Chain Task Force issued recommendations that push for domestic production and better government oversight of supply chain vulnerabilities.

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The Defense Department may soon have to create a supply chain risk assessment strategy and a plan for how to deal with materials and supplies manufactured in adversarial nations, according to a congressional report.

The House Armed Services Committee formed the Defense Critical Supply Chain Task Force in March with the aim of investigating defense supply chain vulnerabilities for materials and supplies, such as semiconductors, rare earth elements, and chemicals and pharmaceuticals, as well as and foreign manufacturing concerns exacerbated during the pandemic.

The final report, released July 22, had 20 recommendations with six geared toward lessening U.S. dependence on foreign suppliers through legislative solutions to be introduced in the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act. Creating a comprehensive supply chain strategy was chief among them.

"DOD must treat supply chain security as a defense strategic priority. Although DOD conducts assessments for critical supplies and is required...to establish a framework to mitigate risk in the acquisition process, it lacks a comprehensive strategy for the entire supply chain across the Department and the services," the document states.

Supply chain vulnerabilities have been a steady concern for the Pentagon, but scrutiny has increased in recent years regarding foreign manufacturing of technologies such as small drones, semiconductors and microelectronics.

"This problem will not age well. This report makes concrete recommendations that help mitigate these risks, enhance our resilience, and better secure our defense supply chain," Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), the task force's co-chair, said in a statement with the report's release. "It's critical we take action before it's too late."

The report pushed for increasing trade skills by having DOD develop a coalition with industry groups representing the defense industrial base, educational institutions and other government partners to focus on developing career paths for manufacturing fields.

The goal would be "to raise the image of machining as a profession that embraces diversity" while also removing "the stigma of entering the workforce rather than university upon graduation," when recruiting high schooler students.

The panel also recommends creating an international council regarding the National Technology and Industrial Base, which would be directed, through an updated statutory authority, and use the organization as a "test bed" for closer international cooperation and "harmonize industrial base and supply chain security policies."

Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), who was also the task force's co-chair, said the pandemic illustrated that U.S. supply chains had failed as health care workers struggled to get masks and gloves, "it was obvious that our supply chains had failed," she said.

"We've come up with a strong set of proposals that will help minimize our reliance on foreign suppliers - particularly China - and prevent future shortages. Now that the legislative proposals are out, I'm eager to get to work adding these to the NDAA."

Reps. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.), Donald Norcross (D-N.J.), Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.), Don Bacon (R-Neb.), Stephanie Bice (R-Okla.), and Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) also served on the task force and signed the report.

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