Fuchs gives testimony before Senate Banking Committee
As Congress heads to conference on the Innovation Act, Professor Erica Fuchs testified on the need for cross-mission critical technology analytics to build a resilient economy.
On March 22, Professor Erica Fuchs of Engineering and Public Policy testified before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs in a hearing titled “Building a Resilient Economy: Shoring up Supply.” Fuchs is leading a moonshot initiative at the university to build a national capacity for cross-mission critical technology analytics.
Fuchs began her oral remarks with an anecdote about a medium-sized U.S. medical supplier she’d spoken with that had challenges achieving its full manufacturing capability due to bottlenecks in supplies of materials like elastic ear loops.
Fuchs said, “When discussing critical technologies, we wouldn’t ordinarily think elastic; yet during those early months of intense supply shortages, that lack of elastic cost our country millions of masks a week.”
She identified the ability to pivot in manufacturing, design, technology, and regulation as the key capability missing from our supply chains that prevented firms like these from contributing more to national efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fuchs highlighted three steps toward building a resilient economy, and discussed the cross-mission critical technology analytics needed to implement those steps.
First, she discussed the need for timely situational awareness of global capabilities in select critical technologies and critical supply chains, and the U.S. situation therein. During the pandemic, Fuchs and colleagues leveraged automated text analysis of public data to create timely situational awareness of U.S. domestic manufacturers entering, pivoting into, and scaling up in response to the COVID crisis, particularly small and medium sized firms unknown to government. Within two weeks they revealed significantly greater domestic mask and respirator manufacturing capacity than known before.
Fuchs noted that identifying products and supply chains with sufficient national value to be tracked preemptively by modern data analytics will require cross-mission valuation that aggregates defense, health, labor, equity, and commercial interests.
Second, Fuchs emphasized that the U.S. must create the supply chains of tomorrow, not fix the supply chains of yesterday. Innovation can transform geopolitical dependencies and the U.S.’s competitive position therein.
For example, innovations in cobalt-free batteries could reduce or eliminate our reliance on cobalt, mostly mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and refined in China. Likewise, semiconductor chips used in transportation and defense systems are highly heterogeneous and custom designed to single manufacturing facilities. Government funding of common design platforms would reduce the costs of switching between facilities and increase supply chain resiliency, while increasing America’s aggregate market power.
Third, Fuchs argued that the U.S. needs to rebuild its manufacturing ecosystem through investments in infrastructure. Fuchs and colleagues have been researching what characteristics enabled domestic companies that successfully pivoted into producing critical medical products during the pandemic. Many of these companies possessed previous experience in waste management, construction, and water or oil infrastructure, strengthening her belief that the greatest promise for rebuilding our manufacturing ecosystem may be equitable country-wide investments in infrastructure of the future. Infrastructure for transit, energy, communications and data, address the needs of society and manufacturing. Investments in smart, climate-resilient infrastructure can build national capabilities in the companies and skilled workers of tomorrow’s manufacturing workforce.
Fuchs reiterated the importance of the U.S. building an analytic capacity to identify win-win’s across missions. Fuchs’ research with colleagues shows that certain innovations in areas critical to national security, including high-end semiconductors for communications and cobalt-free batteries, also offer better jobs for hard-working high school graduates.
Similarly, in the case of the current semiconductor shortage in safety-critical applications, government funding of design platforms that embrace commonalities (but leave room for differences) across the technological demands of the defense and commercial sectors can lead to a solution where the sum is greater than the parts for U.S. security, economic, labor, and equity interests.
Fuchs closed by saying, “to ensure future U.S. security, competitiveness, and access to critical supply, the U.S. must establish a forward-looking, cross-mission critical technology analytics program able to build timely situational awareness, quantify the value of innovations that transform geopolitical dependencies, and identify win-wins pathways across national missions.”
Fuchs’s previous testimonies before the House Ways and Means Subcommitee on Trade and before the House Science, Space, and technology committee Subcommittee on Research and Technology urged Congress to establish a national capability for cross-mission critical technology analytics as part of its historic bipartisan innovation act. Following her testimony before the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, a provision that would create such a capability was added to COMPETES.
Congress has recognized the urgency of addressing critical technology and supply chain issues, as reflected in USICA, COMPETES, and now most recently at the hearing before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. As the House and Senate head to Conference to finalize the Bipartisan Innovation Act, Fuchs hopes they will establish the type of cross-mission critical technology analytics program needed to help the country realize legislators’ objectives for this historic legislation to ensure U.S. leadership in innovation for the decades to come.