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  March 31st, 2022 | Written by

ICYMI – Former Congressman: Let’s not Make America’s Supply Chain Challenges Worse

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Writing in the Journal of Commerce, Former Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA), who represented the Port of Lake Charles for more than a decade, argues that America’s supply chain problems are the result of landside congestion that the Ocean Shipping Reform Act will not solve. Instead, ORSA “would make it worse and ultimately raise costs to the American consumer and businesses.”

Congress should heed Boustany’s advice and invest in new infrastructure that raises the capacity of the transportation industry.

As America’s supply chain continues to be tested, there is reason to be hopeful for the future. Back in November, there was much reporting about Christmas being canceled. However, as we got closer and closer to Christmas, shelves were stocked, and families were able to purchase the gifts they wanted for their loved ones.

It might seem difficult to reconcile these conflicting reports, but as a former member of the US House of Representative’s Ways and Means Committee and having had the privilege of representing much of southern Louisiana, including the Port of Lake Charles, I want to discuss the complexity of the supply chain, how we got here, and where we go from here.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had severe global implications on our manufacturing and supply chain system. From day one, industry stakeholders, including ocean carriers, marine terminal operators, dockworkers, and many more, have worked with the federal government, Congress, and both the current and prior presidential administration to ensure goods flowed.

If we think back to 2020, when the pandemic first came to the US, we can remember how frightened many of us were, purchasing goods in bulk out of fear that shelves would be completely empty. However, those fears never quite materialized. Marine terminal operators, longshore workers, stevedores, and many others put themselves on the frontlines, at a time before vaccines, to ensure that consumer goods, medical goods, and everything else made it to American ports. The shipping industry remains committed to facing these challenges head-on and is working tirelessly to manage the current supply chain issues, while laying the foundation for a stronger supply chain.

Heavy investment in port infrastructure

Transportation industry leaders are investing heavily into US port infrastructure, not just to mitigate the current challenges, but to help pave the way for a 21st century port infrastructure and intermodal connectors capable of meeting the demands of a globalized economy. Here in my home state, industry leaders are investing in a new terminal at Plaquemines, Louisiana, to help facilitate more imports and exports in the Mississippi Gulf region. Industry partners are also making significant investments in new ships, containers, and technologies. In the short term, marine terminal operators and their ocean carrier customers are working closely with the White House on developing solutions to alleviate the current bottlenecks and delays.

Some of these solutions we’ve already seen come to fruition, such as expanded hours at truck gates, more local depots by carriers to get cargo off terminal, and significant private investments into our marine terminal infrastructure. These investments, short term and long term, are vital in supporting America’s advantage in the shipping industry. Ocean carriers have a choice in where to bring their ships and it’s vital we retain our competitive edge to support this industry that provides more than 30.8 million jobs, a large portion of which don’t require a college degree, and has a total economic impact of more than $5.4 trillion. As a former member of Congress, I understand the anxieties many of my former colleagues feel as we enter the election season, and the compulsion to act in the face of this issue. But as we all know, well-meaning intentions can lead to negative consequences.

On Capitol Hill, there is an insatiable appetite to be viewed as doing something for the supply chain. However, today’s bottleneck disruptions are caused by a shortage of physical assets (trucks, warehouse space, truck chassis, rail cars) and labor (truck drivers and warehouse workers). The uptick in COVID cases since late 2021 continuing through the new year also resulted in a shortage of longshore workers. Those disruptions are not caused by the marine terminals, ocean carriers, or inadequacies in existing law. Pending legislation to amend the US Shipping Act will not fix supply chain congestion, but instead would make it worse and ultimately raise costs to the American consumer and businesses.

We have a variety of solutions at our disposal to help facilitate and improve our supply chain. Washington can help by enacting tax credits to stimulate additional last-mile warehouse capacity, and identify off-dock acreage near rail ramps and logistic container hubs. The industry can continue to locate and create temporary warehouse spaces and use tax credits to stimulate investment in clean trucks needed at ports. We can work together to prioritize appointments to pick up essential cargo, such as medical equipment, at marine terminals, and support industry solutions to minimize congestion, such as PierPass.

Similar to the early days of the pandemic, we’ll only resolve these issues by working together. I urge my former colleagues on Capitol Hill to put partisanship politics behind us and work with our friends in the transportation sector to ensure that we find a solution to our infrastructure woes and formulate a solution that has the input of all participants. Speaking over each other, and excluding important voices, will only harm us in the long run.

Charles Boustany served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2005 to 2017, representing Louisiana’s 7th Congressional District, and later the 3rd Congressional District.