By John Harwood, CNN
The Biden White House, trying to expand its limited supply of inflation-fighting tools, will on Tuesday unveil a new one.
Dubbed “Freight Logistics Optimization Works,” or FLOW, the effort joins administration officials and major private sector businesses in a data-sharing initiative designed to enhance the efficiency with which companies move imported goods to stores.
“From ship to shelf,” John Porcari, a key figure in the White House supply chain task force, told CNN in an interview. “This is a really important step forward.”
Since last year, surging demand for goods as the economy reopened from pandemic shutdowns has clogged delivery systems, most conspicuously with traffic jams at major ports that left cargo ships offshore waiting to unload containers onto docks already packed with earlier drop-offs. Previous administration efforts included pushing for expanded hours of operation at ports and attempts to expand the crimped supply of truck drivers.
The pilot program for FLOW, to be rolled out at a White House meeting Tuesday morning led by National Economic Council director Brian Deese and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, seeks to ensure that companies at different points in the process have information that can quicken deliveries. Transportation Department officials, serving as honest brokers for various elements of the supply chain, would share information about when cargo is slated to arrive at port, and which containers have goods slated for different destinations.
The largest companies already have systems providing that sort of real-time logistics data, but smaller businesses don’t. Administration officials say the information-sharing in their voluntary initiative would be “anonymized” to protect proprietary information involving competitors.
The effort is modeled after similar systems in other government departments. The Federal Aviation Administration pools information involving aircraft safety. When coronavirus hit, the Department of Health and Human Services created a “Control Tower” to share information among companies about medical equipment and supplies.
Administration officials say that companies themselves have requested data-sharing assistance for supply-chain improvements. Among those participating in Tuesday’s White House event, either virtually or in-person, are representatives of the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, major retailers Target and Albertsons, and delivery companies FedEx and UPS.
“These first partners are committed to working with the Biden-Harris administration to identify and operationalize a first information exchange that will support a more resilient and fluid supply chain,” a White House fact sheet says. Officials aim to assess by the end of this summer whether and how the pilot program might be expanded in scale.
The impetus for the effort is the unexpectedly high and persistent inflation souring American attitudes about the economy. Taming inflation is principally the job of the Federal Reserve through its control of monetary policy.
Toward that end, the Fed is expected to raise interest rates beginning this week. But the White House keeps pulling its few available levers to dampen price hikes at the margins, from the work of the supply chain task force to releases of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
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