By Seth Stodder

This week, the Obama Administration released its long-awaited National Strategy for Global Supply Chain Security. Signed by President Obama, the Strategy was unveiled by DHS Secretary Napolitano in a speech Wednesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The Strategy articulates the Administration’s vision for working with the international partners and the global private sector to both promote the efficient and secure movement of goods throughout the global economy, and also foster the development of a supply chain system more resilient to major disruptions, whether natural or manmade. The Strategy builds on the last decade of efforts in this area since 9/11, including such legislation as the SAFE Port Act, the Maritime Transportation Security Act, and the 9/11 Act, as well as on key global and U.S. efforts such as the World Customs Organization’s SAFE Framework and the U.S. Container Security Initiative (CSI) and Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT). (Full Disclosure: I was involved in assisting the Administration in the development of the Strategy, and will be part of the effort to solicit feedback from the global private sector in order to help develop an implementation plan.)

The Strategy is, by its very nature, a conceptual document – at only a handful of pages, it does not delineate chapter and verse on every aspect of how the Administration plans to move forward on supply chain security. This more detailed work is left to a future implementation effort. Rather, the Strategy attempts to lay out an intellectual framework for the efforts since 9/11, and for how the world should address this issue in the future. It is broken down into two main “Goals”: (1) to “promote the efficient and secure movement of goods”; and (2) to “foster a resilient supply chain.”

The first Goal in some sense is a restatement of the core doctrine continually articulated by both the Bush and Obama Administrations since 9/11 – we apply risk management principles to secure the supply chain against the introduction of bad things, including potentially terrorist weapons, while at the same time facilitating the movement of lawful commerce. How the Goal is stated emphasizes that “security” and “efficiency” are not separate goals and do not constitute polar opposites in a “zero sum game,” but rather are two sides of the same coin, and of equal importance. The Strategy further emphasizes that we can and must achieve both security and efficiency together at the same time, through such means as working with international partners and the private sector to enhance the “integrity of goods as they move through the supply chain,” rather than simply at border checkpoint bottlenecks, and to collect and analyze information to “understand and resolve threats early in the process,” so as to both ensure security and speed the movement of pre-cleared goods across international borders and through the supply chain system. This Goal also recognizes the impediment to both security and efficiency presented by antiquated or inadequate infrastructure, and so commits the United States to working with international partners and the private sector to “moderniz[e] supply chain infrastructures and processes.”

The second Goal then focuses on the need to ensure the continuity of the supply chain system so essential to American prosperity. In essence, the global supply chain system must be viewed as critical infrastructure to the global economy – and the Strategy asserts that the United States will work with its international and private sector partners to ensure that this global system is “prepared for, and can withstand, evolving threats and hazards and can recover rapidly from disruptions.” Such disruptions are not simply potential terrorist attacks, but also sudden natural disasters (such as the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami, or the Iceland volcanic eruption) or potential longer term disruptions, such as pandemics, labor disputes, among other things.

The Strategy is just the first step in a broader effort to galvanize and focus federal, state, local, tribal, international, and private sector actions aimed at more effectively securing and improving the global supply chain system. Among other things, the Obama Administration will be initiating threat and risk assessments, pushing the development of advanced technology aimed at securing global supply chains (such as sophisticated radiation detection and imaging technologies), and seeking important legislative changes.

In addition, the Administration is launching an effort – set to last through most of 2012 – to solicit feedback from a range of stakeholders, including the global private sector, international partners, and state, local, tribal, and territorial governments. The State Department will be leading the effort to solicit input from foreign partners, and the Cross-Sector Supply Chain Working Group under the Critical Infrastructure Partnership Advisory Council (CIPAC) will be leading the effort to solicit feedback from the private sector and state, local, tribal, and territorial governments. (Full Disclosure: I will be assisting the CIPAC effort.) These efforts will culminate in a consolidated report on implementation status, due to the President in one year, and in a stronger, and more focused and collaborative national and international effort to better and more effectively secure the global supply chain system and the global economy more generally.

  • i believe that we should also look at a ‘qualification ‘ process of suppliers. This was a qualified supplier would not be subject to as stringent border inspection, leaving the CBP and TSA agencies concentrating on the non-qualified suppliers.
    This would create a streamlining of material, and also a revenue stream for the government for the processing and review of suppliers on the qualified listing