In the last month, the COVID-19 pandemic has rightly shifted the attention of Congress and most Americans from the election or Opening Day to just whatever they can do to keep their families and loved ones safe. However, the coronavirus has also hurt the U.S. economy and exposed how our government can work better.
More than 20 million Americans have now filed for unemployment, and some estimate the jobless rate could soar to 15 percent. And while Congress and President Donald Trump consider its next potential deal to help kickstart the U.S. economy – even after the federal government passed a $2 trillion rescue package – there’s another strategy the federal government should deploy that would not only meet the challenges we face today, but also rise to the opportunities of tomorrow: creating a national manufacturing strategy.
Fighting the coronavirus has been as much about making sure we have enough first responders and health care professionals as it has been about manufacturing ventilators and personal protective equipment, and other materials needed to help fight the disease. For example, many of our nation’s manufacturers have had to repurpose their production lines to help boost our nation’s inventory of medical supplies. And because so much of the equipment that our member companies build is essential to the health and economic well-being our country, many of the 2.8 million men and women of our industry have played a critical role in the relief effort.
Looking beyond our current crisis, creating a national manufacturing strategy also helps strengthen U.S. manufacturing and secures America’s long-term economic competitiveness. Over the past two decades, due to rising costs, a growing skills gap and other issues, the U.S. manufacturing sector has declined. For example, the U.S. share of global manufacturing declined 36 percent in the last 15 years.
A comprehensive national strategy for manufacturing would eliminate redundancies and improve efficiencies across the federal government. For example, there are currently 58 manufacturing-related programs across nearly a dozen federal agencies, resulting in an overly-complicated bureaucracy and making it impossible to estimate total federal investment in manufacturing. A coordinated national effort would significantly increase efficiencies and collaboration across existing federal manufacturing programs, reduce wasteful spending and improve the ability and accountability of the federal government to respond to rapid changes in the global manufacturing landscape.
The first step of a national strategy could include creating a national institute that would serve as a hub for all federal manufacturing programs in the executive branch and coordinate federal manufacturing policy across agencies. Another is the establishment of a Chief Manufacturing Officer reporting directly to the President of the United States and responsible for developing and carrying out the national manufacturing strategy. Finally, the establishment of a National Manufacturing Council would provide nonpartisan advice to the president on how to strengthen the manufacturing sector and ensure the future competitiveness of U.S. manufacturing in the global economy.
Fortunately, there’s currently a legislative proposal by Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) that would achieve the objectives of the proposed national strategy for manufacturing. By working together, Congress should ensure the passage of legislation that utilizes current program funding and personnel to dramatically improve efficiencies and reduce redundancies in existing federal manufacturing programs, and reduces onerous and ineffective regulations.
AEM also invites other manufacturing leaders, trade associations and business groups to join us in urging Congress and President Trump to implement this national strategy. We hope this can act as a starting point or a broader dialogue about how to ensure the country’s global leadership in manufacturing and guarantee the long-term economic and national security of the United States. By doing so, we can rebuild our economy and ensure the long-term security of our nation.
Dennis Slater is president of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, the North America-based international trade group representing off-road equipment manufacturers and suppliers, with more than 1,000 companies and more than 200 product lines in the agriculture and construction-related industry sectors worldwide.
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This op-ed has been updated to include the most recent unemployment numbers.