White House officials on Tuesday acknowledged the nation’s ongoing supply chain crunch and admitted there will be items that Americans won’t be able to get in time for the Christmas holiday.
Late last week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration had formed a task force to deal with bottlenecks at U.S. ports, along highways and rail carriers as dozens of cargo ships sit outside major ports along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts thanks to a dearth of truck drivers, dock workers, and other supply chain personnel that were exacerbated by the COVID pandemic.
She told reporters that “there are a range of issues…the point is, we’re working to address them on several paths and on several fronts,” adding: “I can’t make a prediction of when it will be concluded. It’s just a top priority of the president’s.”
Psaki did not provide specifics, but industry officials described a worsening set of problems in getting cargo offloaded and products to store shelves.
The White House appointed a “bottleneck” czar in June to help deal with the problem, which has affected deliveries of everything from food to electronics. The task force reportedly meets once per week and is, among other things, pushing private-sector firms to find ways to ease delays.
“It’s like bringing 10 lanes of freeway traffic into five,” Gene Seroka, head of the Port of Los Angeles, told Fox News last week. “It’s more cargo than we’ve ever seen in our lifetime.”
“Our message right now is, get out and if you see something your child has on his or her list, pick it up now to make sure you have it for the holidays,” said Ed Desmond, executive vice president of external affairs for the Toy Association, told the network.
The problem has developed into somewhat of a crisis, the most recent one for the Biden administration, and it threatens to dim spending and overall economic activity at a crucial time — the holiday season; according to the most recent Reuters/Ipsos polling, the state of the economy is still the most important issue for Republicans and Democrats.
“Biden himself plans to meet with top executives from retail giants Wal-Mart Inc. and Home Depot Inc. and with unions and other stakeholders on Wednesday to discuss efforts to relieve transportation bottlenecks before delivering a speech on the topic,” Reuters reported Tuesday.
Nevertheless, “there will be things that people can’t get,” a senior White House official told Reuters after being asked to comment about holiday shopping conditions.
“At the same time, a lot of these goods are hopefully substitutable by other things. … I don’t think there’s any real reason to be panicked, but we all feel the frustration and there’s a certain need for patience to help get through a relatively short period of time,” the official said.
Already, product shortages are driving inflation, which had already risen to levels unseen in years; real wages for American workers declined 0.9 percent in August compared to a year prior, according to the Labor Department.
Some companies are already responding to the demand for more transport capacity. On Tuesday, the White House announced that the Port of Los Angeles, UPS, FedEx, and Walmart will move to a 24 hour/7-days-per-week schedule to help ease the current backlog.
“The port of Los Angeles is announcing 24/7 service,” a senior Biden administration official told reporters, joining the nearby Port of Long Beach, which launched a 24/7 schedule about three weeks ago, the New York Post reported.
Last week, more than 60 cargo vessels were anchored off the California ports, but that number has since grown to more than 100 ships, according to The Post.
“The supply chain is essentially in the hands of the private sector so we need the private sector to step up to help solve these problems,” said the White House official. “Three of the largest goods carriers in the country — Walmart, FedEx and UPS — will make commitments toward moving to 24/7 working during off-peak hours.”
That said, the official noted further that even with the major transport firms stepping up, more would need to be done along the line.
“These are major commitments, but they’re most effective when every private company along the supply chain does the same thing. And now we’re looking to trucking and freight to expand hours as well to help with bottlenecks,” the official noted.
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