While American consumers pay exorbitant prices for once cheaply imported goods, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg remains in a state of denial – seldom seen, paralyzed from the neck up on how to do his share of the task as outlined by public law and his sworn commitment to perform the duties of the office he holds.
For the past several months, images of bottlenecks at our ports and lack of intermodal transport capabilities have revealed the sources of the crisis in the nation’s ability to supply products to meet consumer demand. This has created biggest inflation spike in the past 30-years (see Consumer price index October: Biggest inflation surge in more than 30 years (cnbc.com).
Fortunately, the Secretary of Transportation has the responsibility and authority to fix the system and each of its bottlenecks. In fact, 55-years ago, Congress saw the importance of synergizing the nation’s transportation system as vital to our economic prosperity and national defense. Congress acted, and on October 15, 1966, President Johnson signed into law the Department of Transportation Act (PL 89-670). This act created the Secretary of Transportation post and outlined this cabinet secretary’s principal duties (see [USC02] 49 USC SUBTITLE I, CHAPTER 3, SUBCHAPTER I: DUTIES OF THE SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION (house.gov).
The Secretary’s legal mandate and granted authorities rightfully assign the supply chain problem to him alone. Specifically, paragraphs 3, 5 and 7 provide this cabinet official the responsibility and authority to coordinate “coordinate federal policy on intermodal transportation and initiate policies to promote efficient intermodal transportation…,” to “consult and cooperate with the Secretary of Labor in compiling information regarding the status of labor-management contracts and other labor-management problems and in promoting industrial harmony and stable employment conditions in all modes of transportation,” and to “consult with the heads of other departments, agencies, and instrumentalities of the U.S. Government on the transportation requirements of the government, including encouraging them to establish and observe policies consistent with maintaining a coordinated transportation system…”
As CBS’ 60-minutes so eloquently summarized in their story on 14 Nov 2021, the problem is not overly complex as it involves a few bottlenecks, an antiquated scheduling system of systems, a touch of international and domestic profiteering, and a state mandated environmental constraint. The solution lies in addressing concerns with oceanic shippers, port capacity, container storage, trucking capacity (notably lack of carriages for the containers and drivers), inefficient booking/scheduling systems, and a recently enacted California environmental mandates that restrict the inventory of available cargo trucks (see Cargo with nowhere to go: 60 Minutes investigates the supply chain crisis – CBS News).
The explanations are straightforward; however, each of the areas of failure is dependent on the other for a wholistic solution. This resulting finger pointing is symptomatic of an utter lack of overarching leadership to resolve the national crisis. The one cabinet member that is mandated to lead the charge is Secretary Buttigieg. He and his staff should have already: (a) coordinated with other departments and agencies to seek economic actions against price gouging transoceanic shipping magnates, (b) requested temporary injunctions against organized labor to overcome union constraints for longshoremen and truckers, (c) tapped vast Department of Defense resources for port and trucking capabilities, to include container trailer/carriages and associated cranes to ensure offloaded cargo can rapidly depart the ports and railyard storage sites, (d) obtained relief for excess storage fees for retailers whose goods are held hostage by the failures of the system, and (e) seek temporary relief from the California Air Resources Board regulation to increase the number of available trucks to move the containers (see CARB to block DMV registration of pre-2011 trucks starting 2020 | Overdrive (overdriveonline.com)).
Leadership in times of crisis requires one to exercise a few basic principles. Those who don’t are usually in over their heads and readily absolve themselves of their appointed duties, in what the military refers to as ‘dereliction of duty.’ The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), among other thinktanks, have studied leadership in times of crisis and resulting leadership paralysis. CCL posits that in times of crisis, leaders must have credible information, communicate, and explain the situation and way ahead, be visible at the helm and dedicate resources (see How to Lead Through a Crisis | Center for Creative Leadership (ccl.org)).
Against CCL’s litmus, we find the Secretary is out of public view and refusing to lead from the front. In fact, the Secretary of Transportation was selfishly away from the helm and off his government emails for several weeks thanks to his taxpayer funded maternity leave. We also find the Secretary relying on a recent 100-day review of the supply chain that seemed to support the Administration’s agenda without a single mention of any of the aforementioned supply chain issues (see 100-day-supply-chain-review-report.pdf (whitehouse.gov)). The Secretary’s way ahead messaging has been to blame it on lack of child care, completely oblivious to the underlying problems (see Pete Buttigieg Blames Supply Chain Shortages on Lack of Affordable Child Care (msn.com).
When in charge, take charge. It is clear Secretary Buttigieg owns this crisis and has yet to exercise his designated responsibilities or any of his legal authorities to solve it. It is a failure of national leadership in a time of national crisis; a dereliction of duty of such magnitude to warrant impeachment. Accountability is for another day as the American consumer has suffered long enough and need action now, not tomorrow. They have grown tired of this incapable leader, paralyzed in a time of crisis when their nation needs him the most.