Carnegie Mellon University
May 05, 2021

Industry, Academic, and Government Leaders Convene Virtually at CMU to draw Lessons from COVID Medical Supply chains for critical technology strategy in future crises

On May 4, 2021, leaders from industry, academia, and government gathered virtually in a Chatham House Rule workshop to deliberate on lessons from COVID medical supply chains for critical technologies. This workshop was organized and led by Carnegie Mellon University’s Professor Erica Fuchs and Associate Professor Valerie Karplus, both of the Department of Engineering and Public Policy (EPP), with opening remarks from Dean William Sanders.

As it stands today, the U.S. lacks the intellectual foundations, data infrastructure, and analytic tools necessary to build national technology strategy that meets government’s multiple objectives of security, prosperity (including jobs), and social welfare (including equity, human health, and the environment). At a time when we are considering greatly increasing funding for science and technology, these intellectual foundations, data, and analytic tools are imperative to guide government decision-making and to transparently communicate to legislators the implications of their technology decisions.

It is this idea that compelled the College of Engineering’s faculty to come together with faculty from Computer Science and the Heinz school of information systems and public policy and form a moonshot initiative to build the intellectual foundations for national policy in critical technologies, supply chains, and infrastructure. As Dean Sanders noted, “Suffice it to say, this group has been thinking deeply about the potential gains we could achieve in the federal government’s strategic technology decision-making through innovations in data collection, algorithms, and the federal institutions themselves.” 

As a team, Fuchs and Karplus are positioned to get to the heart of these topics. Fuchs’ research focuses on the development, commercialization, and global manufacturing of emerging technologies, and national policy in that context. In July 2020, Fuchs testified before the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade on “Trade, Manufacturing, and Critical Supply Chains: Lessons from COVID-19.” Together with EPP Ph.D. student Nikhil Kalathil (who spoke on his research at the workshop) and University Professor Granger Morgan, Fuchs and Karplus published and testified before the international trade commission early on during the pandemic on how Inadequate Data on Manufacturers of Critical Medical Supplies Weakens U.S. Capabilities for Pandemic Response.” Karplus studies the drivers of performance and change in coupled global economic, energy, and environmental systems. Karplus’s first book was on biotechnology in China. Recently, Karplus wrote in Foreign Affairs on why global decoupling won’t kill a green future.

Times of adversity draw out the best in a nation and also shine new light on our structural challenges.” Fuchs writes in the opening remarks for her Ways and Means testimony, “The COVID-19 global pandemic has shone light into darker corners of the U.S. economy: deep global interdependencies in health and manufacturing as well as national challenges in racial, geographic, and income inequality and job safety. The good news is that crises offer rare moments in policy for true change.” 

As an outcome of the workshop, Fuchs and Karplus synthesized the stakeholder perspectives into a white paper, titled “A New Approach to Coordinate U.S. Critical Supply Chains in Crisis.” They hope this white paper will provide novel insights for building the data and analytic tools needed to inform supply and trade policy around critical technologies, and help ensure that during subsequent crises the nation is better prepared to ensure the prosperity, health, and welfare of all citizens.