President-elect Biden’s promise of a COVID-19 supply chain moves the nation towards addressing inequality in pandemic healthcare. His plan will see the coordination of states receiving the supplies they need – meaning distribution won’t be limited to the highest bidder.
According to the strategy, a “fully empowered Supply Commander” will manage the pandemic manufacturing and logistics network. Biden seeks to create an independent supply chain to prevent dependence on imported equipment during times of crisis.
While they rarely make headlines, well-managed supply chains have proven themselves essential in times of national crisis.
Simply put, supply chains are complex networks of manufacturers, packers, and shippers that provide us with the resources, from food to medicine to cleaning supplies, that we use on a daily basis. The supply chain has emerged as a critical component of ensuring states have essential equipment like masks, gloves, and ventilators. Lacking federal coordination, procurement was inefficient; production became overwhelmed, and states fell by the wayside.
Supply chain management was an afterthought in the national approach to pandemic healthcare. We all recall images of medical teams wearing garbage bags in lieu of gowns, and stories of nurses being forced to wear used masks.
Currently, states are primarily responsible for sourcing their own medical supplies on the open market. The highest bidder wins – and poorer states are left to fend for themselves. Historically underserved communities bear the brunt of substandard national supply distribution. It is especially devastating to see in one of the world’s largest industrial economies, which, with proper planning, could organize the equitable distribution of critical supplies.
History has shown us that the U.S. can rise to the challenge, and a synchronized supply chain must be at the center of such a national crisis response strategy.
Shortly after America entered World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt expressed a belief that remains true in this pandemic: “Powerful enemies must be out-fought, and out-produced.” Roosevelt used the War Production Board to direct scarce resources toward the war effort. While he could not control the machinations of the Axis powers, out producing the enemy was within his abilities. Nearly 80 years later, a similar principle is true. While President-elect Biden cannot control the virus, the White House can take concrete steps to equip frontline workers with the material they need to fight this new enemy.
Reminiscent of FDR’s strategy, Biden’s campaign promise to appoint a “Supply Commander” is a positive step towards equipping frontline workers with the gear they need for this new battle.
The Supply Commander would be responsible for organizing the procurement, production, and distribution of essential COVID-19 supplies, equipment, and medication for all 50 states and U.S. territories. The Commander will be required to work with governors to identify resource needs and coordinate production based on the timing of case peaks. Additionally, the strategic timing of manufacturing limits stress on supply chains, meaning producers won’t be overwhelmed.
A federally managed supply chain would allow for fair, cost-effective equipment purchasing. Lower income states would not be unfairly disadvantaged due to their lesser buying power. The Biden strategy recognizes the equal need for lifesaving equipment, which is currently thwarted by competition. In this current life or death crisis, the government must take all actions within its power to level the playing field. Biden’s plan strives to do that.
Additionally, we have an advantage today, that FDR never had – technology.
Through modern technology, we would experience greater efficiency in our response compared to FDR. Supply chain software provides us with the ability to monitor inventory levels, manage production, and coordinate the on-time delivery of essential supplies. While our initial response lacked synchronization, the creation of an organized, technology-driven supply chain will yield greater results. Better efficiency means more lives saved.
When combined with a federal supply chain strategy, technology can ensure states have the supplies that they need, when they need it. The benefits of a national supply chain would be felt in all states and territories – not just those with the deepest pockets. This is a pragmatic approach to reducing the impact that income inequality has had on underserved communities throughout the pandemic.
While we cannot anticipate what President-elect Biden has up his sleeve, we are hopeful that in the days following his inauguration, he will take a page from FDR’s book. It is clear that a coordinated COVID-19 supply chain is the path forward, and we are confident we have the technology to achieve it.