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Signs of Hope Amid the Partisan Bickering

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MCN Editor Dan Markham Don’t look now, but it’s possible Congress might be working on a couple of efforts that will make your lives easier, rather than more difficult. 

While polarization continues to be the rule in both houses of the legislative branch, one area of common ground is forming around improving supply chain issues. Some noteworthy legislation is in various stages of completion, while a new bipartisan group has reformed to wrangle some of the many disparate elements of the domestic network under a single body’s purview. 

That was one of the insights offered by Tom Madrecki, vice president of supply chain and logistics for the Consumer Brand Association, who works extensively in D.C. on issues vital to the manufacturing sector and its ability to operate efficiently.

In a webinar with Supply Chain Network, Madrecki revealed the three issues that are of primary concern to supply chain participants: labor, inflation and adoption of tools to manage their businesses.
 
On the labor front, the issue exists with both the logistics providers as well as inside the factories and warehouse spaces. Persistent inflation, and the economic tools to fight it, is likewise top of mind. Finally, there are the tools and technologies that may be employed to help mitigate the negative effects of the top two items. 

That’s where Congress is taking its most immediate steps to help U.S. companies. 

The first push was made with the introduction of the Safer Highways and Increased Performance for Interstate Truckers Act, which, not coincidentally, spells out SHIP IT. The SHIP IT Act is a bipartisan effort launched by Reps. Dusty Johnson (R-SD) and Jim Costa (D-CA) designed to increase safety and shipping capacity for truckers, improve parking availability, offer incentives for recruiting and retention of drivers and provide flexibility for times of emergency or black swan events.

“Kudos to Reps. Johnson and Costa for building bipartisan support for these policies, coming together thinking what are the commonsense solutions across the supply chain that you can put into a single piece of legislation and start to make some inroads at reducing costs, making things run more efficiently and improving the quality of life for truckers.”

The SHIP IT has since been subsumed into a larger piece of legislation passed out of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “What started as the SHIP IT Act is now part of a broader supply chain package that Chairman [Sam] Graves (R-MO) and Ranking Member [Rick] Larsen (D-WA) got through to the House floor. It’s got the same provisions, plus a pilot program to increase gross vehicle weights and ocean shipping reform.”

The full House will consider the bill later this year.

Another effort winding its way through Washington is the Freight Logistics Optimization Works Initiative, which stemmed from the massive port issues that followed the pandemic-related shutdowns and slowdowns. 

Under the initiative, the government would become the facilitator of a large data-sharing program, where various stakeholders could provide and access relevant information. 

“They’re benefiting from sharing of that data and gaining insight about how supply chains, especially at the port levels, are working and using that insight to inform their operations and their decision making,” Madrecki said. As seen with the government’s involvement with the aviation industry, this is one area where the government is uniquely positioned to oversee the project. The main concern right now is there is only $2 million allocated, so it will inevitably need greater investment to truly get off the ground.
 
Going forward, the relaunch of the bipartisan Supply Chain Caucus could work to make sure the various efforts and programs being worked on in Congress fit under the entire supply chain umbrella. An initial quartet of legislators  has since grown with additional members of both parties. 

Such a body is sorely needed, Madrecki said. 

“There are a lot of conversations that take shape every day in Washington around transportation, there are conversations around trade, around labor, around farm programs or commodity programs. All of those things are in many ways stitched together,” he said.  

Government clearly has an appropriate role to play, one that doesn’t overstep into management but does its part to allow the supply chain to function properly. 

“Every day, supply chains are shaped by policy, so it makes sense that there is a supply chain expert entity within Congress, folks who want to be invested in this space,” he said.