Government, private sector cooperation necessary to clear supply bottleneck, expert says

Judy Woodruff looks at the limits of what President Joe Biden can do about the supply and delivery issues facing the United States, and other problems affecting the economy simultaneously, with David Lynch of The Washington Post.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now we look at the limits to what President Biden can do about these supply and delivery issues and the effect it is having on the broader economy.

    David Lynch has covered this extensively for The Washington Post. And he joins me now.

    David Lynch, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    I know you listened today to what President Biden had to say. You were listening just now to Secretary Raimondo. How much difference do you think these moves that the administration is announcing to try to break up this bottleneck on the supply chain, how much difference is that going to make?

  • David Lynch, The Washington Post :

    Well, I think it is a step in the right direction. At the margin, it may improve what has been a very difficult situation.

    But it is not entirely accurate to say that the Port of Long Beach has already gone 24/7. In fact, they have six container terminals at that port. Only one of the six has lengthened its hours in a pilot program. And at that, that terminal is open 24 hours Monday through Thursday. So it is not quite 24/7. That leaves five other terminals out of it completely.

    At the Port of Los Angeles, which is the new initiative that was announced today, it is not clear yet how many of their terminals will go 24/7 and just what the operational details will be. So, we're still waiting to hear on that.

    The problem, I think, for the administration is that this is really a challenge that is not immediately amenable to federal power. The entire supply chain is composed of private sector companies, all independent, all operating sometimes in a very siloed way.

    And so the administration — and I think they have acknowledged this — recognizes that they can play a roll sort of convening and getting people together and jawboning them to cooperate and share data, but it is not as simple as cutting taxes or increasing spending. This in many ways is beyond the government's immediate power.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we heard — in fact, I read some of the reporting you have done on just what you were talking about.

    And I did ask Secretary Raimondo, what about the fact that ports may not be fully 24/7? She said, we're working on those details.

    So they say they're doing that. But we also heard her say that it is up to the private sector. And we heard President Biden say, we're going to call them out if they don't step up.

    So what does that exactly mean? And does the private sector feel that kind of pressure from the president — from a president?

  • David Lynch:

    I think they do and they don't.

    I mean, it is a very fragmented system. So, even the people directing the ports, say, in Los Angeles and Long Beach, they can't order the terminals to stay open until 3:00 in the morning, because those ports operate really just as landlords. And so the terminals set their own hours.

    And in the past, when there have been these night and predawn hours available, truckers often won't show up, because, if you think about it, if you are a trucker, you can show up at 3:00 a.m. to collect a shipping container, but then where are you going to go with it? The warehouse may be a half-an-hour away or 45 minutes away. They are not open at 3:00 a.m.

    So it really is essential — and, obviously, the administration officials involved with it understand this, but getting one part of the operation to longer hours will help, but only if everybody is part of that process. And it's going to take some time to make that happen, I think.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I'm asking you about these details because this problem, as we now know, is affecting so many Americans, and whether they are waiting to remodel their house or they're waiting for something that they ordered that hasn't arrived.

    And I'm still trying to get at this question of how much difference can the administration, I guess you can call it jawboning — how much difference can that make, coupled with the moves that they say they have the ports make on their own?

  • David Lynch:

    I mean, I think, at the margin, the administration can help, and I think they're trying to help. I think they're also trying to look as if they're engaged and trying to help, because this is a problem that is not just an economic problem. It is a political problem.

    And Secretary Raimondo acknowledged that. This is sort of the kind of Main Street economic problems that can really cause a president problems. Every person I talked to in my neighborhood has got a story to tell about something they went out to buy at the store and couldn't find.

    I was waiting on a garden variety auto part that should have taken two days under normal circumstances. It took me three weeks. My wife constantly complains she can't find a specific type of cat food that our incredibly fussy cat prefers.

    Now, none of these problems, in and of themselves, are fatal or showstoppers. But as they accumulate, they become, along with inflation, the kind of economic problem that any White House is going to be really concerned about.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And just in a word, we heard Secretary Raimondo say people will see a difference by Christmas. Do you believe that?

  • David Lynch:

    It's possible. I mean, these problems aren't going away by Christmas.

    Most of the people we spoke to for our recent project on the supply chain say we have got another year of disruption ahead of us. And one reason for that is, in its middle of next year, the big contract with the longshoremen union out on the West Coast expires.

    And so a lot of companies that have already been having trouble getting their goods are starting to place precautionary orders for next year, because they don't want to get caught short if there is some kind of labor action on the docks in the middle of 2022.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David Lynch with The Washington Post, thank you very much.

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