Last month President Biden launched a plan to address the supply chain crisis that has seen imports and exports stall, resulting in empty store shelves and threatening to blight gift during the upcoming holiday season.
On Oct. 13 he announced the effort he characterized as “a 90-day sprint” by the government and private sector companies involved in logistics management who will work together to address in a program that the President said possesses “the potential to be a game changer” by clearing out major bottlenecks at ports.
At the event, southern California port and other private sector executives announced the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach would be adding a third shift to their daily work schedule, allowing their facilities to operate 24 hours a day.
Others present at the President’s announcement were top executives from the warehousing industry, all of the major transportation modes, labor unions and freight customers, such as Walmart and Target.
Biden noted that Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer, had committed to a 50% increase in moving goods during off-peak hours. FedEx and UPS also were credited with committing to increasing their overnight operations. “Their commitment to go all in on 24/7 operations means that businesses of all sizes will get their goods on shelves faster and more reliably,” Biden declared.
“All of these goods won’t move by themselves,” Biden added. “We need major retailers who ordered the goods and the freight movers who take the goods from the ships to factories and stores to step up as well.”
Undiscussed was the fact that America’s warehouses are full to the rafters, in spite of the record pace for new facility construction.
Opening port facilities for 24-hours-a-handling of containers is not a new idea, but previous attempts ran into problems stemming from the fact that so many different parties are involved in the operations.
One immediate issue is that ports are impacted by stacks of empty containers taking up space near the docks where unloaded containers are supposed to go. Another problem is the imbalance in the supply of chassis. Management and coordination of this fleet has been a challenge for years since ocean shipping lines stopped supplying chassis.
A large part of the supply chain crisis can be traced to the lack of trucks to handle both the freight and port equipment movements, which arises from one simple cause that won’t be solved any time soon – the growing dearth of qualified truck drivers.
Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said his department is looking at perhaps loosening trucking regulation in much the same way as it did in response to the Covid 19 pandemic, but by the time this was written he had yet to offer any specifics.
Addressing the driver shortage is a long-term project. It is a problem that has been building for decades and became noticeably serious during the recovery from the Great Recession, before Covid.
Among the challenges are finding people who want to drive for a living and who possess the necessary skills and qualifications. Even with expanding truck driver training programs, it will take time to put more drivers behind the wheel.
Interviewed on television the same day as Biden’s announcement was the head of a truck driver school who said her classes were full of students who are completing the program in six weeks – but who then had to wait two to three months to get their licenses from DMVs that are still backed up by delays caused by the Covid 19 lockdowns.
The nation’s major freight railroads signed on to the Biden project, but in the last five years they have subjected shippers to widespread service failures resulting from their embrace of the Precision Scheduled Railroad operations model.
Then there are the kinks in the supply chain that no U.S. company or the administration has any control over – those that take place in other countries that we depend on to feed our economy with all kinds of manufactured goods.
The 800-pound gorilla here, of course, is China. Vital ports in that country have shut down at times because of coronavirus surging among their workers. That country also is now experiencing a major energy crisis because of a shortage in coal.
But China is not alone in dealing with these kinds of disruptions. Other countries in Asia, Africa and Europe are experiencing similar problems in their supply chains which ultimately impact the U.S.
Some cynical observers have dismissed the Biden effort for serving as nothing more than a political smokescreen intended to divert attention away from growing inflation and the open wound that is the aftermath of the Afghanistan evacuation.
Biden may have fueled that impression by using the presentation to also advocate for the Democrats’ infrastructure bill and “Green New Deal.”