Opinion - Politics

Op-ed: Here's how President Biden can fix the supply chain – and save Christmas

Mick Mulvaney
Key Points
  • We need to be looking at how the federal government can act right now to help alleviate the strain in the supply chain, writes Mick Mulvaney.
People shop for holiday items at the Country Store on Main Street in Stockbridge, Massachusetts on December 13, 2020.
Joseph Prezioso | AFP | Getty Images

Two weeks ago, President Joe Biden held a press conference to announce that the Port of Long Beach would be transitioning to an around-the-clock work schedule in order to help clear the backlog of container ships waiting off the California coast. It was a critical part of the administration's efforts to help alleviate the supply chain disruptions that are threatening the U.S. and world economies.

"This is a big first step," the president noted. "Now we need the rest of the private sector supply chain to step up."

He is right on both points, and adding roughly 60 hours a week to the work schedule at Long Beach is a significant development. However, while the private sector does have much work to do, the federal government's efforts cannot and should not stop at the Long Beach agreement.

Supply chains, as even ordinary Americans are learning, are extraordinarily complex and sometimes fragile systems. They are subject to disruption from any number of sources, from malicious actors shutting down a key gas pipeline, to simple accidents, such as a stranded container ship in the Suez or the shutdown of a silicon chip factory in Taiwan.

Government has a role to play in dealing with these pressures on our supply chain for the simple reason that government is literally everywhere in our supply chain. From environmental restrictions on what can be imported into this country, to inspections at ports of entry, to rules on how item get from port to store shelves, government touches the goods we buy literally dozens of times between their production and our consumption.

Whether that is desirable or not is a debate worth having another time. If we are going to "save Christmas" – and if President Biden is going to be able to follow through on the promises he has made to help get the flow of goods moving again – then we need to be looking at how the federal government can act right now to help alleviate the strain in the supply chain.

One of the problems, of course, is that the sort of things the government can and should be doing are dull. Combing through the Department of Transportation regulations, for example, in order to identify rules on long-distance trucking that might be temporarily waived or modified isn't stuff that excites many people, including political appointees in any administration.

But they are absolutely critical.

Running a government is hard, never mind the politics of getting signature pieces of legislation approved. While reconciliation bills and infrastructure packages might get all of the attention, it is finding ways to make the government work properly and effectively that should be the goal of any administration.

The fact is there are additional actions President Biden can take right now to alleviate some of the pressure on the supply chain. For instance, both cargo and passenger airlines want to fly more international routes, which would help move goods and passengers during the holiday season. But new overflight authorities are required, which the State Department should move immediately to secure.

That's just one example. Whether it is directing the Office of Management and Budget to identify any regulations that might be unnecessarily hampering our supply chains, tasking the General Services Administration to identify properties owned or controlled by the federal government which could be used for temporary container storage, or finding ways for Customs and Border Patrol to move items quicker at the border, the president should be exploring every avenue that will help get goods moving throughout the country.

Democrats and Republicans should and will have debates about large government vs. small. But right now what we need is to ensure that the government that we have actually works.

Mick Mulvaney is a former congressman from South Carolina who also served as director of the Office of Management and Budget and acting chief of staff to then-President Donald Trump.