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Washington D.C.
Tuesday, February 7, 2023

DOT Invests to Increase Supply Chain Resilience

The investment was informed by the Department’s new report that lays out vulnerabilities in the freight and logistics supply chain.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration (MARAD) has announced nearly $450 million in newly available grant funding for port-related projects through the Port Infrastructure Development Program (PIDP)—by far the largest investment in the program ever. These grants can help ports expand capacity and improve the movement of goods through supply chains. 

This funding is made possible through President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and is nearly double last year’s investment in PIDP for states and port authorities. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will invest $17 billion in ports and waterways.   

PIDP grants are awarded on a competitive basis to support projects that will improve the movement of goods to, through and around ports. Furthermore, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law calls upon applicants to explore ways to include projects that will improve goods movement while also strengthening resilience, reducing emissions and advancing environmental justice. 

To provide technical assistance, the Department will host a series of webinars explaining the Port Infrastructure Development Program grant application process. Details and registration information regarding these webinars will be made available at MARAD. The deadline to submit an application for the Port Infrastructure Development Program is May 16, 2022. 

The new investment was informed by the Department’s new report that lays out vulnerabilities in the freight and logistics supply chain and the clear-cut actions needed to speed up the movement of goods from ships to shelves. 

The report was released on February 24 and is the result of a years-long effort to gather information from both public and private stakeholders, who provided more than 400 responses to the Department. It explains the concrete steps that the federal government, Congress, states, and private companies can take to improve supply chains now and in the long-term, including investments in both physical and digital infrastructure to support America’s supply chain resiliency.  

Terrorism and theft are ongoing threats to freight operations, as is cybersecurity given the increasing adoption of technology in freight and logistics operations. Because of their importance to the national economy, physical infrastructure such as freight and logistics facilities may be targeted by maligned actors, including terrorists or organized crime networks. Threats may be posed by insiders with access to facilities or outside actors who gain access through lawful or unlawful means. To minimize and mitigate these threats, the report notes that government officials and freight and logistics stakeholders can take ongoing precautions such as strict identification requirements, implementing background checks, and coordinating with law enforcement to respond to emerging threats.

Truck parking is a concern for both the security of freight workers and cargo security. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law requires States to assess commercial vehicle parking facilities as part of their State Freight Plans. Cargo theft, a $15 to $35 billion industry, is a rising concern for freight and logistics. According to one supply chain security firm, the vast majority (87 percent) of cargo thefts occur at unsecured truck parking sites. With more cargo sitting in congestion through the supply chain in 2021, the Department says reports of such cargo thefts have increased. For instance, rail carrier Union Pacific reported a 160 percent year-over-year increase in rail car theft in Los Angeles County from 2020 to 2021.

Supply chains are of course increasingly dependent on technology for their operations. The report says that cybersecurity attacks are relatively rare, but are nevertheless increasing in frequency. Ransomware has become an increasing threat to transportation facilities and in recent years has impacted multiple transportation firms, including trucking companies and rail lines. 

The report warns that freight and logistics stakeholders must be conscious of the ongoing risks posed by terrorism, organized crime, and insider threats. In an increasingly technologically connected supply chain, the Department says many operations and security managers need training and support to increase cybersecurity and assess a changing landscape of technological risks. 

Recent action in Ukraine has turned the spotlight on potential retaliation, and it is no secret that Russia has a robust cyber offense. Gaps in cybersecurity knowledge and practices must be closed without delay to safeguard the nation’s infrastructure. Writing for Homeland Security Today last week, Tom Goodman set out some best practices that could help to close those gaps, such as investment in training and public-private partnerships.

The Department’s new report also favors closer collaboration between public and private entities and recommends both public and private sharing of cyber-incident data to enhance supply chain cybersecurity, including providing supply chain stakeholders access to cybersecurity tools and education that allow them to improve their cybersecurity posture in concert with partners and freight facilities. 

The report also calls for a joint effort with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) which would work with States to identify major natural- and human-caused threats to the transportation system’s performance, define institutional structures for planning for and responding to disruptions, and identify mitigation strategies in a national plan. This will include studying the need for Federal funding to support security infrastructure development.

Aside from bad actors, the supply chain also faces threats from climate disasters. Increases in heavy precipitation events, coastal flooding, heat, wildfires, and other extreme weather threaten aging and deteriorating transportation infrastructure. Much of the United State’s critical freight infrastructure is in regions vulnerable to flooding, including many ports, airports, and rail lines. Storm-related flooding can close railyards, low-lying roads, and maritime port cargo facilities. High temperatures can accelerate the deterioration of pavement on roads and runways, and cause railroad track failure.

Extreme weather events also disrupt the supply of equipment, technology, and labor on which the U.S. freight system depends. To address the threats from climate change, the report says freight and logistics systems will need to both reduce emissions to keep climate disruptions from becoming worse and build them to withstand the climate disruptions that are already occurring.

According to the Department, road, sea and rail carriers are already exploring the use of electric and alternative fuel vehicles and making sustainability commitments, and major U.S. cargo and passenger airlines have committed to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. 

Find out more about the PIDP grants at MARAD and read the full supply chain report at the Department of Transportation

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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