DOT Discusses Easing Supply Chain Congestion
As part of their assessment of American supply chain disruptions and vulnerabilities, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) recently published recommendations for new and renewed policies and funding to improve and speed up the movement of goods from ships to shelves.
In the “USDOT Freight and Logistics Supply Chain Assessment,” issued in February 2022, the Department lists the challenges faced by supply chains over the last few decades and offers a series of 62 specific tactics to address those challenges in both the short run and over the long term.
Recommendations touch on the areas of freight system and capacity, supply chain bottlenecks / supply chain congestion, supply chain performance and transparency, freight capacity and efficiency, domestic production of critical equipment, supply chain security, freight planning, and knowledge, freight workforce, and development, supply chain impact on adjacent communities, and data sharing capabilities. Moreover, they look at overall market competition and fairness.
Supply Chain Congestion Challenges
USDOT opens its assessment by confirming the challenges and vulnerabilities faced by the U.S. supply chain over the past several years:
- Growing demand for freight, especially related to e-commerce
- Increased consumer demand for rapid delivery
- Complex global supply chains with many products manufactured abroad
- Climate change and the rising frequency of weather-related supply chain disruptions
- Security issues presented by the process of adapting to new technology
- Hiring, training, and keeping a qualified workforce
Since 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has added port closures, shortages of workers and equipment, increased congestion and delays, and price fluctuations to the mix.
Summary of Recommendations
USDOT recommended that funds provided under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act be used to invest in projects that support supply chain resilience, promote domestic manufacturing, plan for future growth, and address intermodal and inland storage capacity needs. Passed by Congress in November 2021, the Act is also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL).
Some of the Department of Transportation’s recommendations will have more impact than others, of course. In addition to the outlined funding recommendation above, selected policy and action recommendations contained in the report are listed below by area of focus.
Freight System and Capacity Needs
- Ease supply chain bottlenecks with “pop-up” intermodal yards and other temporary solutions
- Invest in Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS)
- Mitigate supply chain impact on disproportionately affected communities
Supply Chain Congestion and Bottlenecks
- Implement strategies to expand truck parking availability and increase safety in rest areas
- Explore financial incentives to improve warehousing capabilities
- Increase U.S.-flagged ships, shipping companies, and shipbuilding
Freight Planning and Knowledge
- Update existing DOT guidance on state freight plans
- Strengthen freight planning and supply chain expertise throughout the U.S
Freight Workforce and Development
- Leverage job training and apprenticeship programs to advance the transportation industrial base workforce and connect members of vulnerable communities to supply chain jobs
- Leverage the experience of military veterans to fill civilian logistics jobs
Supply Chain Security
- Enhance supply chain cybersecurity through cyber-incident data sharing
- Improve Position, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) services, including Global Positioning Systems (GPS), Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), and alternatives
- Prioritize transportation supply chain elements for domestic manufacturing, ally-shoring, and nearshoring
Freight Impacts on Communities
- Advance national transportation policies by coordinating brownfield and superfund redevelopment efforts with impacted communities
Supply Chain Performance
- Fund existing programs that collect or provide supply chain data, including the Commodity Flow Survey, Freight Analysis Framework, TransBorder Freight Data dashboard, and the Vehicle Inventory and Use Survey
- Update mandatory response authority for freight data collection
Data Sharing Capabilities
- Provide visibility into the location of products and next loads for truckers, terminal managers, and beneficial cargo owners (BCOs) by investing in and facilitating the use of communication systems
- Create a national freight portal to share key data among stakeholders
- Develop an electronic information exchange standard for critical product flow tracking
- Improve performance by increasing insight and visibility into end-to-end supply chain movements
Supply Chain Performance Transparency
- Share supply chain resilience data with public and private stakeholders through a dedicated freight and supply chain data performance program under the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS)
- Collect data describing flows of major commodities, raw ingredients, and finished products to help identify potential points of supply chain disruption, issues in common across sectors, and other factors
Market Competition and Fairness
- Consider the impact on relevant supply chains when taking trade policy actions
Public and Private Response
As a direct result of recommendations included in the USDOT assessment report, the Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration (MARAD) in late February announced nearly $450 million in newly available grant funding (made possible by the BIL) for the Port Infrastructure Development Program (PIDP), the largest investment ever made in this program for port-related projects.
The American Transportation Association is one of many organizations that have responded to the USDOT report. Chris Spear, ATA president, recognized certain points made in the report as “what (the) ATA and truck drivers have been saying for years,” singling out the lack of safe truck parking for negatively impacting an already tangled U.S. supply chain and making a difficult job much more challenging. Spear emphasized industry needs by pointing out that 72% of domestic freight is moved by truck drivers.