(Updates throughout to include additional recommendations.)
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The Biden administration is looking to ease supply chain bottlenecks by backing moves to increase truck parking, and exploring the possibility of increasing U.S. flagged ships.
The Transportation Department is offering more than 60 recommendations after assessing challenges since the Covid pandemic constricted the flow of goods.
“These recommendations are meant not only to respond to the current disruptions, but to stand the test of time by building supply chains resilient to future disruptions, in whatever form they take,” the department said in a report Thursday.
Supply chain bottlenecks have been a top concern for President Joe Biden and U.S. lawmakers as the pandemic led to a shortage of workers, and ports experienced backlogs. A year ago, Biden directed agencies across government to pinpoint weaknesses in supply chains and propose multiyear remedies.
Among the Transportation Department’s recommendations is spending for communications systems to relieve bottlenecks by sharing information on product and load locations for truckers, terminal managers, and cargo owners.
Decades of paltry spending on the nation’s infrastructure requires ambitious remedies, a senior administration official told reporters on a call.
The report lays out steps to take “both right now, and in the years ahead,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement Thursday. The department received more than 400 responses in collecting information for the report, which includes federal, state and private sector actions.
The department also wants to support state transportation agencies and private industry to expand parking and safety at truck stops.
The trucking industry has pushed for more parking for years. There’s a nationwide shortage, major trucking groups told Buttigieg in a letter last week. The groups urged him to make grants for truck parking a priority as the department doles out money from the infrastructure law (Public Law 117-58).
The department also recommends exploring regulations that could urge more people to work in the supply chain, such as allowing truckers to hand goods off to other drivers to work within a certain area.
Congress should also enact ocean shipping regulatory changes, the report recommends. The House passed legislation (H.R. 4996) in December that would give the Federal Maritime Commission additional authority to regulate U.S.-international ocean shipping and combat unfair practices.
A long-term recommendation — that the department acknowledges to be complex and expensive— is to look into increasing U.S.-flagged ships and shipping companies. U.S. ships carry less than 2% of U.S.-international cargo, the department said, so spending more on the nation’s vessels could give the U.S. more control of the supply chain.
“America’s international trade consists of a fleet that is mostly foreign-built, leaving the country vulnerable to international disruptions,” the report said. A potential remedy could be better enforcement of the Cargo Preference Act, which sets some requirements around what needs to be carried on U.S. ships.
The department’s recommendations from the report also include:
- Working with lawmakers to grant the Federal Highway Administration more permitting and regulatory flexibility to respond to supply chain emergencies. Congress should remove an exemption for motor carriers from the Fair Labor Standards Act, which would require employers to pay overtime to many truckers.
- Better coordinating the Surface Transportation Board, Federal Maritime Commission, and Transportation Department on regulation and oversight for freight and logistics, and looking at possible consolidation.
- Pushing the STB, which regulates freight rail, to require rail track owners to give right of way to passenger rail. This push was also part of an executive order last year to promote competition, which Amtrak praised.
To contact the reporter on this story: Lillianna Byington in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org