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Biden signs executive order to strengthen COVID supply chains

“Lean” supply chains will lead to more shortages without increased government coordination, administration warns

Biden signs supply chain orders to improve COVID-19 response. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves & The White House)

Shortages in COVID-19-related equipment and vaccines have prompted an executive order from President Joe Biden to address urgent supply gaps by coordinating, monitoring and strengthening supply chains.

The executive order, called A Sustainable Public Health Supply Chain and signed on Thursday, was one of a flurry of presidential actions issued by Biden after he was sworn in on Wednesday.

The order directs federal agencies “to fill supply shortfalls using all available legal authorities, including the DPA [Defense Production Act] … and identifies immediate supply shortfalls that will be critical to the pandemic response, including shortages in the dead-space needle syringes available to administer the vaccine.”

The order is included in the administration’s 200-page National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness, also released Thursday. “If the federal government does not act, shortages are expected to continue, especially in light of the lean nature of supply chains and the intense global competition for the same supplies,” the strategy warns.

The executive order directs the federal government to conduct an immediate end-to-end inventory of major COVID-19 response supplies, “a crucial first step” to addressing supply chain issues, according to the order. The inventory will drive decisions about replenishing the Strategic National Stockpile, use of the DPA, budget requests, investments in manufacturing, and decisions about prioritizing supply distribution.

“Use of the already enacted DPA means the President does not need to go back to Congress — which is in transition, contemplating impeachment, holding hearings on nominees, etc. — meaning it is a good way for the administration to organize the pandemic response without getting bogged down on the Hill,” said Alex Hontos, a partner at the law firm Dorsey & Whitney. “I expect the Biden administration to use the DPA extensively.”

Within 180 days, the order calls for a “Pandemic Supply Chain Resilience Strategy” that requires Cabinet secretaries to coordinate with the administration’s COVID-19 response team to provide the president with a strategy to address future pandemics. It is to include an analysis of the role of foreign supply chains in America’s pandemic supply chain, America’s role in the international public health supply chain, “and options for strengthening and better coordinating global supply chain systems in future pandemics.”

Biden also signed on Wednesday an executive order requiring mask-wearing on certain domestic modes of transportation. The order directs the secretaries of the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Transportation, and Homeland Security, as well as the commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard to “immediately take action, to the extent appropriate and consistent with applicable law, to require masks to be worn in compliance with CDC guidelines” in or on:

  • Airports.
  • Commercial aircraft.
  • Trains.
  • Public maritime vessels, including ferries.
  • Intercity bus services.
  • All forms of public transportation.

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John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.