WASHINGTON ― With an eye on semi-conductors, rare-earth minerals and China, a new congressional task force on defense supply chain vulnerabilities plans to tee up fast legislative fixes for inclusion in the annual defense policy bill in just three months.
The task force’s co-chairs, Reps. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., and Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., told reporters Wednesday they would work closely with the Pentagon as it assesses fragilities in its supply chain, in response to a recent order from President Joe Biden and reporting requirement to Congress.
“This is built to be [ready] in the three months leading up to the real meat and potatoes of [drafting the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act], so that we aren’t waiting another year,” Slotkin said. “We’re seizing on the interest from a lot of corners around the country.”
Both said they were jarred when the early months of the coronavirus pandemic revealed America’s dependance on China for masks and ventilators. For Slotkin, an incident last year in which Chinese authorities delayed a shipment of medical supplies to the U.S. amid trade tensions with the Trump White House is also informing the effort.
“How do we prepare for unanticipated future shocks,” she said. “You can easily imagine having the diplomatic, military and economic communities ramping up and getting into a cycle of escalation with the Chinese that suddenly made it impossible for us to get some of the goods and services that people depend on every single day.”
What the task force will recommend wasn’t immediately clear, but the lawmakers are interested in U.S. dependencies on foreign imports like semi-conductors, rare-earth minerals and battery technology with uses for the defense and commercial sectors ― as well as medical supplies, where shortages might cripple the military.
Coming from heartland manufacturing states, both were open to fixes that involve reshoring of U.S. manufacturing and change through positive incentives for businesses.
How heavily they’ll look to “Buy America” provisions is an open question. While Slotkin said she has written to the Biden administration to ask that it step up enforcement of existing “Buy America” requirements, both said they are interested in a “Buy Allied” approach.
“The trick is really just finding that right balance between what capabilities we absolutely must be able to make in the USA, what we can buy from our close allies, and what we can afford to source from broader networks of partners,” Gallagher said.
The task force is also expected to tap the Trump administration’s assessments of the defense industrial base and the U.S. supply chain for data and ideas. The Pentagon’s last annual “Industrial Capabilities” report to Congress identified a range of problems, in particular defense components several tiers down in the supply chain that are manufactured overseas.
Defense leaders last year acknowledged that the ongoing pandemic highlighted the Pentagon’s dependancies on offshore supply chains, for rare earth elements and microelectronics, but also pharmaceutical ingredients.
This month, Biden signed a far-reaching executive order that called for supply chain reviews across many economic sectors deemed strategically significant ― to include rare earth elements; pharmaceuticals, and high-capacity batteries of the sort used in electric vehicles. It also orders the secretary of defense to submit a report on supply chains for the defense industrial base.
The new task force will run for three months with an option to continue for another three months. Members include Reps. Donald Norcross, D-N.J.; Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa.; Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J.; Don Bacon, R-Neb.; Michael Waltz, R-Fla.; and Stephanie Bice, R-Okla.
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.