WASHINGTON ― To find ways America’s manufacturing base can stay competitive as it intersects with national security, the Ronald Reagan Institute has assembled a new task force of lawmakers and business leaders, including Lockheed Martin’s former CEO.
The task force, to be announced Tuesday, comes as the U.S. prioritizes competition with China and amid something of an overlapping focus between former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden on reviving U.S. manufacturing. Senate Democrats have in recent days reached out to Republicans for a bill to counter China and invest in U.S. manufacturing.
The Reagan task force plans to look beyond government solutions to what businesses and investors can do, exploring manufacturing process improvements as a way to increase America’s competitiveness.
“It is clear that the government alone cannot solve the problems we face,” Reagan Institute Director Roger Zakheim said. “Our Task Force members represent a wide range of stakeholders who have a role to play in solving these problems, and we are confident their recommendations will make a valuable contribution to the national conversation.”
Former Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson and investment firm Bridgewater Associates CEO David McCormick will co-chair the 16-member task force. Members from outside the defense community include Johnson & Johnson Chief Global Supply Chain Officer Kathy Wengel and John May of the private equity firm CORE Industrial Partners.
“The dramatic technological advances that are revolutionizing our economy will also require us to rethink what constitutes the defense industrial base,” Hewson said. “As the tools of warfare change, we must ensure that our manufacturing base adapts to remain capable of meeting America’s national security needs in the 21st century.”
The task force is to hear briefings from experts about technological productivity; public and private investment; building the workforce of the future; leveraging global partnerships; and setting rules and standards. It’s expected to make recommendations in December before the think tank’s annual forum.
The announcement comes weeks after Biden signed an executive order to review weak spots in U.S. supply chains for critical items, including computer chips, medical gear, electric vehicle batteries and rare earth minerals.
Some of the thinking behind the task force is that supply disruptions during the ongoing pandemic exposed preexisting weaknesses. It’s expected to look beyond aerospace and defense to medical equipment and semiconductors, which have suffered recent shortages, and other parts of the U.S. economy.
“The COVID-19 crisis has emphasized the importance of securing our critical supply chains,” said McCormick, who previously worked at the Treasury Department. “This Task Force will take a hard look at how we can generate the capital and workforce needed to shore up those vulnerabilities and restore American industrial competitiveness in those sectors that are critical to the nation’s defense.”
The task force’s members include the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s ranking member, Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Texas, well as House Armed Services Committee members Mike Gallagher, R-Wis.; Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich.; and Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa. Slotkin and Gallagher are co-chairing a recently announced HASC task force with a similar focus.
The Reagan Institute’s policy director, Rachel Hoff, will manage the task force. Hoff was a senior aide to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain before he died.
A separate Reagan task force last year recommended steps to grow the defense innovation base and challenge China, including through the creation of a new National Guard-esque unit for technology and a special visa program.
Joe Gould is the Congress and industry reporter at Defense News, covering defense budget and policy matters on Capitol Hill as well as industry news.