Biden Supply Chain Strain Initiatives Include Better Data Sharing

Lisa Johnston
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As the bipartisan infrastructure bill awaits Biden's signature, the White House also announced new initiatives on Tuesday to ease supply chain strain.
As the bipartisan infrastructure bill awaits Biden's signature, the White House also announced new initiatives on Tuesday to ease supply chain strain.

As the landmark bipartisan infrastructure bill sits on President Biden’s desk waiting for an expected signature, the consumer goods industry is marking it as a good, albeit first, step in the pandemic recovery.

Meanwhile, the White House also announced additional initiatives on Tuesday to ease supply chain strain, including increasing federal flexibilities for port grants, accelerating port infrastructure grant awards, and calling for better data sharing.

The grant moves are designed to let port authorities redirect unused money toward tackling today’s supply chain issues, including freeing up dock space in the congested Port of Savannah.

Addressing the importance that data sharing plays in supporting the supply chain, the administration noted that the movement of goods is almost entirely privately operated, spanning shipping lines, terminal operators, railroads, truckers, warehouses, and beneficial cargo owners.

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“These different actors have each made great strides in digitizing their own internal operations, but they do not always exchange data with each other,” it released in a statement. “This lack of data exchange causes delays and inefficiencies as cargo moves from one part of the supply chain to another, driving up costs and increasing fragility.”

In order to strengthen resiliency and leverage digitization of the supply chain, the administration is calling for new data standards for goods movement. As part of this, the Department of Transportation will work with the Federal Maritime Commission to publish a request for information on standardized data exchange requirements for goods movement in the transportation supply chain.

“Standardized data are an important first step to ensure interoperability among actors in the supply chain and greater transparency, resiliency, fluidity, competition and efficiency across the supply chain.”

The $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act — passed 228-206 in the House late Friday and, as of this writing, expected to be signed by the president shortly — would invest more than $550 billion over the next five years, including $17 billion in port infrastructure and waterways, $25 billion in airports, and $110 billion to repair roads and bridges and support transformational projects.  

It would also invest $39 billion modernize transit to improve public transit options and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Geoff Freeman, Consumer Brand Association president and CEO, applauded the move, saying it will build supply chain resilience and reverse years of Washington’s detrimental inaction in the supply chain crisis.

However, the legislation won’t solve the immediate supply chain crisis, Freeman noted, with its ramifications contributing to increased costs for consumers.

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“With the looming potential of shortages of essential goods, we encourage Congress and the Biden administration to stay focused on what can be done to fix problems now,” he said in a statement. “Consumer Brands put forward a set of immediate policy recommendations and will continue to act as a partner to the administration to ease supply chain bottlenecks and ensure consumers have access to products they depend on every day.”

The National Retail Federation similarly cheered the passage, with NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay noting the crucial role an efficient transportation system plays in retail.

“This substantial influx of investment in our roads, ports, bridges and other core infrastructure will further enable businesses to meet burgeoning consumer demand and promote economic growth,” Shay said. “The prioritization of our nation’s fundamental transportation network will mitigate many of the supply chain challenges businesses are experiencing today and will pave the way for a 21st century infrastructure system that can withstand future disruptions.”

In the near term, holiday demand is expected by the NRF to keep U.S. ports at record levels of congestion for the rest of the year.

“Dockworkers are unloading ships as fast as they can, but the challenge is to move the containers out of the ports to make room for the next ship,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF VP for supply chain and customs policy, who called for better empty return procedures and more chassis, truck drivers, rail capacity and warehouse workers.

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