A comprehensive U.S. manufacturing policy is needed now more than ever

Twelve years ago, we warned that:

    • The increasing dependence of U.S. defense systems on foreign suppliers is alarming, especially, it might be argued, in a post-September 11 world…What happens when supply routes, for example, anywhere across the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans, are disrupted?

These warnings could not be more relevant today as we experience devastating disruptions in our supply chains across virtually every industry sector due to the growing COVID-19 crisis. Essential medical supplies are impacted as we struggle to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. commercial industrial base is particularly threatened by excessive reliance on outsourcing without regard to possible downsides. Aerospace, which contributes heavily to gross domestic product (GDP) with almost 500,000 U.S. jobs, has been outsourcing production for many years to repeated protests from the Machinists Union, among others. Fifty years ago, U.S. commercial airplanes were mostly produced in the U.S. Now, a much larger percentage of aircraft is outsourced—with an estimated 70% of the Boeing 787 production being outsourced.

Of course, it is not just aerospace and related products that are outsourced. The U.S. shipbuilding and repair industry has declined dramatically, along with other fundamental industries like machine tools. We are now more dependent on other countries for these items—along with countless others—than ever before.

The technology and clothing manufacturing industries, which have outsourced production to other countries, are incredibly vulnerable. As we face the COVID-19 crisis, we are learning just how vulnerable our medical supply industry is in the wake of all of the outsourcing of critical production to other countries.

The implications of outsourcing go far beyond the disruptions of supply chains—it also greatly weakens our industrial base and defense capacity, hinders our capacity to initiate manufacturing of critical goods and equipment that we have never produced, and decimates the number of workers that are essential for producing these goods and supplies.

If ever there was a time for U.S. policymakers to implement a manufacturing policy across industrial sectors that will protect the public (including workers) and our nation’s economy and security from vulnerable supply chains, it is now. As we can see from the current crisis, we cannot afford to wait any longer.