December 1, 2011
Column | fastlane

Cliff Lynch's annual letter to Santa Claus

I fervently hope you can load congressional stockings with a full ration of wisdom, judgment, and the spirit of cooperation because we simply must repair the country's infrastructure.

By Clifford F. Lynch

Dear Santa,

It has been another difficult year for many of us in the supply chain profession. Although we've seen little spurts of improvement here and there, the economy is still weak. I'm sure you're seeing it in your toy orders again this year. While there are many supply chain managers out there who are finding creative ways to manage costs while maintaining an acceptable level of customer service, they can't carry the burden alone. There still are a number of broader issues with which we could use some help.

As you've probably heard, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood went off on Congress, at least the Republican contingent, for not providing funds to repair and improve the country's crumbling infrastructure, and announced that at the end of President Obama's current term, he was out of there. Some now are calling him a "whiner," but the fact of the matter is, no one in Washington seems to be able to get along anymore. I want to be careful to stay away from any political comments, but I fervently hope you can load congressional stockings with a full ration of wisdom, judgment, and the spirit of cooperation. I don't know what your organizational structure looks like right now, but maybe you could spare a few elves to provide some counseling. Whatever you can do would be appreciated because we simply must repair the country's infrastructure. I'm sure you remember the president calling for a doubling of U.S. exports by 2015. This would be great, but if we accomplish this, we could create a supply chain nightmare for ourselves. I'm not convinced our river locks, highways, and rail infrastructure are up to it.

But enough about infrastructure. As important as it is, there are other serious concerns we're grappling with as well. There is a major controversy brewing over a proposed $7 billion pipeline that would connect the Alberta oil sands in Canada to Texas Gulf Coast refineries. Over 1,000 protestors have been arrested in front of the White House, so it is not a universally popular project. As you might imagine, the controversy revolves around possible harm to the environment and "dirty" fuel sources, but we desperately need the oil in this country. As long as we continue to use oil—and I believe we will rely on it for some time to come—it would be nice to have better control over supplies. Some of our oil sources are a little shaky, at best. I realize this is a tough one, but please take a look at it and see what you can do.

There is what I believe to be an exciting idea to increase allowable truck weights from 80,000 to 97,000 pounds for trucks equipped with six axles, rather than the usual five. Truck size would not be affected, but the extra axle would enable the vehicle to handle the additional weight without any negative effects on highway infrastructure, safety, fuel costs, or the environment. In fact, there is strong evidence that just the opposite would be true. The Senate recently approved the measure for Vermont and Maine, where tests had been under way, but the hope is that each state will be given the option to increase weight limits on its own portion of the interstate highway system. You should have some interest in this one. If it works on the highways, it ought to be just as effective for sleighs. If you could carry more presents per trip, it would be easier on you and would avoid any hours-of-service problems with the reindeer.

Of course, there are other ongoing concerns I have written to you about before. Issues related to capacity, rates, possible driver shortages, and increased regulation will no doubt flare up in 2012. Through it all, we need your calming influence and spirit of collaboration. Just remember: If all else fails, you can simply cut off the toys.

Merry Christmas!

Clifford F. Lynch

About the Author

Clifford F. Lynch
Columnist
Clifford F. Lynch is principal of C.F. Lynch & Associates, a provider of logistics management advisory services, and author of Logistics Outsourcing – A Management Guide and co-author of The Role of Transportation in the Supply Chain. He can be reached at cliff@cflynch.com.

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