DOD’s Supply Chain Security Should be Strategic Priority, Congressional Task Force Says


The Defense Critical Supply Chain Task Force released six legislative proposals calling for less dependence on adversaries like China and improved supply chain visibility.

A House Armed Services Committee task force is recommending the Defense Department treat supply chain security as a strategic priority and create systems for mapping and monitoring the defense supply chain. 

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted supply chain challenges as the U.S. scrambled to ensure it had enough personal protective equipment and then saw prices of consumer goods like cars rise due to a semiconductor shortage. In the early days of his administration, President Joe Biden signed an executive order requiring a review of certain supply chains. 

It’s in this context that the House Armed Services Committee set up its Defense Critical Supply Chain Task Force, which released its final report Thursday as Congress moves forward with the process to construct the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act. The task force, which ran for three months and was headed up by Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., and Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisc., hammered out a total of six legislative proposals in the 25-page final report to be submitted as NDAA amendments. 

In addition to creating a departmentwide risk assessment strategy and systems for generating more visibility into the supply chain, the task force also recommends the U.S. acquire commercially available tools for mapping the supply chain, make a plan for reducing reliance on adversaries like China for resources and manufacturing, establish a coalition to push for workforce improvement, lean more heavily on the National Technology and Industrial Base group, and secure the rare earth elements supply chain via close coordination with the Energy and Interior departments. 

In an era of globalization, gaining visibility into increasingly complex supply chains has been a challenge. The defense industrial base has been struggling to adjust to the implementation of statutes like Part B of Section 889 of the 2019 NDAA, which blocks the Pentagon from working with contractors that use products or services from certain banned Chinese companies like Huawei and ZTE. 

“There's a certain inertia, a certain status quo bias and a shared sense that this is such an impossible task, informed, perhaps, by past sector-by-sector, tier-by-tier failures that we need to overcome within DOD, particularly as technology, I think, has opened up the opportunity to actually figure this out,” Gallagher said during a Thursday Center for New American Security discussion on the report.

Gallagher said a former Trump administration official suggested during a task force roundtable that one route to advancing supply chain mapping may be to start with one legacy program and conduct as much in-depth mapping on that program as possible. Then, using lessons from that experience DOD could iterate its mapping processes.

Slotkin added that despite difficulties in analyzing defense supply chains, she doesn’t want leaders to become prisoners to vulnerabilities created by depending on adversaries like China. 

“But you can’t fix that unless you know about the vulnerability,” Slotkin said during the CNAS event. “So that’s what we’re asking for.”

The task force also recommended a series of actions for DOD and the administration around industrial base issues, Defense Production Act usage, and workforce concerns. The House is set to begin markups of the 2022 NDAA next week