Benjamin Ruddell, Professor in the School of Informatics, Computing & Cyber Systems at Northern Arizona University, offers advice to both the private and public sectors on how best to carry out President Biden’s recent executive order on creating more resilient supply chains for essential goods.
Some government regulation will be required to meet the objectives of Biden’s executive order, says Ruddell. There will need to be some “safeguards and guardrails” that keep private companies from making sourcing decisions for critical items solely on the basis of cost. The COVID-19 pandemic made it all too clear that China currently holds a dominant role in supplying masks, gloves, gowns and other types of personal protective equipment (PPE). Domestic sources must exist to lessen the nation’s dependence on that source of product. “Because of problems that have appeared in the supply chain during emergencies, I believe there is a strong need for government regulation in this space,” Ruddell says.
At the same time, he says, there are areas of business on which the government should not intrude. The food and grocery sector proved its ability to pivot quickly in the early weeks of the pandemic, shifting distribution away from restaurants to grocery stores without the need for a government directive. “What we need to avoid doing is putting handcuffs on the ability of the private sector to adapt during emergencies,” Ruddell says. “They may need incentives to force them to prioritize resilience, but they know best how to do it once the regulations are in place.”
Ruddell calls for a “middle ground” where regulations might dictate minimum levels of sourcing from domestic producers or countries considered friendly to U.S. interests. “We don’t want to see anything proscriptive that says you have to buy from this country or supplier,” he says.
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