A group of House lawmakers that has been studying Defense Department (DoD) supply chain concerns has given the Pentagon a list of high-level recommendations to address supply chain risks going forward.

The recommendations were issued July 22 by the Defense Critical Supply Chain Task Force, a bipartisan group of eight House members put into action earlier this year by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., to review the defense industrial base supply chain and identify and analyze threats and vulnerabilities.  The task force is headed by Reps. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., and Mike Gallagher, R-Wis.

Rep. Slotkin said she is looking forward to including the recommendations in the FY2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

First, the task force said that DoD “must treat supply chain security as a defense strategic priority.” While DoD currently does assessments for critical supplies, “it lacks a comprehensive strategy for the entire supply chain across the Department and the services,” the task force said.  The group recommends putting in place a requirement for DoD to undertake a “Department-wide risk assessment strategy and system for continuous monitoring, assessing, and mitigating risk in the defense supply chain.”

Second, it said that DoD needs better visibility into the defense supply chain to understand vulnerabilities and develop risk mitigation strategy, and recommended a statutory requirement

“for the Department to employ commercially available tools to map the defense supply chain within one year.” The task forced added, “Commercially available tools are used by some in industry and certain military service-level acquisition programs, but the Department should not rely solely on industry to provide the information.”

Third, the task force said DoD – and the United States more broadly – should reduce its reliance on “adversaries” for resources and manufacturing, and recommended a statutory requirement for DoD to identify supplies and materials that come from adversarial nations and make a plan to reduce its reliance on those sources. “The defense supply chain presents a national security risk: a significant amount of material in the Defense Industrial Base is sole-sourced from the People’s Republic of China,” the task force said.

Fourth, the task force said DoD needs to “use its influence to facilitate workforce improvement by creating a productive partnership” between the Pentagon, industry, education partners, labor, and other Federal and local entities. “The Department must work with industry, education partners, labor, other federal and local entities to incentivize and increase the education and training of the workforce,” the task force said. “Without this effort and the resulting increase in manufacturing capability and capacity, resiliency-building in the supply chain will falter.”

Finally, the task force said DoD should “leverage close ally and partner capabilities” through the National Technology and Industrial Base (NTIB) to shape policy and partnerships with allies. “The Task Force recommends updating statutory authority to emphasize the value of a broad collaboration with the NTIB allies beyond acquisition, to strengthen the alliance; directing the NTIB Council to identify particular policies and regulations that could be expanded to the NTIB allies, in order to use the NTIB as a testbed for closer international cooperation and supply chain resiliency; and authorizing an NTIB “International Council” to harmonize industrial base and supply chain security policies,” the task force said.

“As we learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, our adversaries – particularly China – are capable of weaponizing supply chain vulnerabilities,” the task force said.

“Last year, we all saw how the shortages of PPE cost American lives,” said Rep. Slotkin. “We struggled to get things like masks and gloves for our healthcare workers, and it was obvious that our supply chains had failed … it was so clear we could never let that happen again, especially on items that are directly connected to our national security.”

“That’s exactly why we launched this Task Force – not just to draft a report, but to write actual legislation to address vulnerabilities in our defense supply chains and make sure our military is protected from supply chain shocks down the road,” Rep. Slotkin said. “We’ve come up with a strong set of proposals that will help minimize our reliance on foreign suppliers – particularly China – and prevent future shortages. Now that the legislative proposals are out, I’m eager to get to work adding these to the NDAA.”

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.