From Secure and Competitive Markets Initiative:

“Supplies are born free but everywhere are in chains.” – Some guy on Twitter.

Welcome to the holiday edition of our newsletter. In honor of the season, we’ve curated the best supply-chain-related memes of the past few months. The list is at the end of this email because, like when preparing to eat pie, you should finish your vegetables first.


1. Uncle Sam Wants You… to flag the biggest technology supply chain risks.

Propelled in part by the February Executive Order (EO) “America’s Supply Chains,” departments and agencies have been reaching out to the public in the past few months to get insight on a wide range of information and communications technology-related questions. First out of the gate was the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security, asking for the latest on semiconductors. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) followed just before Thanksgiving with a request for information (RFI) on eight types of emerging technology. And now the Department of Energy is seeking insight on 14 different areas within the energy industrial sector.

Clearly, the Biden administration wants to show that it’s working with the private sector and eager to collaborate. But it’s not been all smooth-sailing. Take Commerce’s semiconductor RFI, which was met with suspicion overseas, sparking criticism and forcing foreign companies to explain that they wouldn’t hand over private customer data to the U.S. government in their response. (Note that publishing private customer-specific data is… not. at. all. the purpose of a voluntary, public RFI.)

For more: Here’s Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo at a White House press briefing addressing the blowback from the semiconductor RFI.

2. Will Chips for America finally pass?

It’s risky to pontificate on pretty much any aspect of ongoing congressional cyber/supply chain legislation, given the ping-pong match of amendments and the even more chaotic rumor mill.

But one of the most popular and bipartisan bills caught in limbo is the legislation that would fund the Chips for America Act—a measure originally passed in a previous National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) but without any funding behind it.

The path for the current funding bill—one promising a whopping $52 billion in federal investments for semiconductors—has been long and arduous. First it was included into the United States Innovation and Competition Act (USICA) when it passed in the Senate last summer. But then it got stuck—the House passed alternative bills that were analogous to some of the USICA provisions but not a direct match. In mid-November, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer floated adding the Senate-passed version of the USICA into the need-to-pass annual NDAA—an idea that was soundly opposed by enough members that the idea was scrapped. Now, Democrats in the House and Senate are conferencing on the bill, but their timeline is short with the approaching holiday season.  Some have floated stripping the popular Chips Act out of USICA and passing it on its own: a move which would likely make it more difficult for the rest of the bill’s measures to make it into law.

For more: We liked Vox’s explainer on what Congress needs to accomplish in December. And if you’re looking for the flip side on the Chips Act—a little criticism to water down the rosy bipartisanship—it’s here.

3. Chips, (the item not the legislation) we know your games All Too Well

We’re sorry—we’re just as tired as hearing about the chip shortage as you are. But we do have to list some of November’s major developments. We present to you a semiconductor chip potpourri (even if not as fragrant as holiday ones):

  • Ars Technica: Why the chip shortage drags on and on…and on

  • CNBC: JPMorgan on semiconductor shortage and outlook for 2022, 2023

  • Detroit News: Raimondo: US at ‘inflection point’ of chip shortage

  • Financial Times: Samsung to build $17 billion chip plant in Texas

  • Barron’s: The Chip Shortage Could Be Spreading to iPhones

4. 5(G)olden Rings this Holiday Season

You can’t talk about 5G without talking about Open Radio Access Network (Open RAN or O-RAN), the hottest thing since blockchain.

 The concept here is interoperability between vendors—that is, the ability to mix and match products into the same network. Here’s a rough analogy: You know that sense of seething anger that you feel when your iPhone charging cord breaks, but all your other cords stashed under your desk are USB-C?  That’s kind of how telecommunications companies feel when they have to rely totally on one vendor for everything…. And that’s also why the U.S. government panics when allies want to use Huawei gear.  Because when you commit to a 5G vendor, you really commit and it’s hard to change direction.

While O-RAN skeptics warn that it’s no panacea for our telecommunications troubles—and that it won’t be cheap, either—companies are forging ahead. Just this last month, the Meta (Facebook’s) Telecom Infra Project (TIP) announced that it successfully helped deploy 35 O-RAN trials worldwide. And one of these trial hosts—Deutsche Telekom—has newly launched its own developmental RAN lab—named i14y (or shorthand for “interoperability”).

For more: Check outEricsson’s pitch, fresh off the heels of the United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP26), that 5G could perhaps be designed todecreasedemand for energy consumption when compared to previous generations.

5. (DIB)s on the best technology

Is the United States’ defense industrial base (DIB) up to the task of fending off 21st century threats?

During a November 15th Brookings Institute event, Kathy J. Warden, CEO of Northrop Grumman, asserted that yes, our DIB is the strongest in the world. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a slew of challenges facing it. She offered the “three v’s” of threats to help frame the question: velocity (the speed of threats), volume (the quantity of threats)and variety (types of threats). But at the same time that threats are metastasizing, the DIB is dealing with the consequences of decades of deindustrialization and the long-term challenge of China’s increased military, economic and technological capabilities.

So while some argue that the U.S. DIB is the crème de la crème, others warn that it may only appear this way since it hasn’t yet been tested by major power competition.

For more: The recently completed Defense Posture Review (whose details remain classified) calls for shifting military resources to the Indo-Pacific.

Circling Back: Following up on our dissection of the rare earths issue in last month’s newsletter, check out this analysis by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies: “China Consolidates Rare Earth Supply Chain.”

As promised, meme away!

From ours to yours, we wish you the happiest of holiday seasons and we’ll see you in the new year!

Image credit: Golden Sikorka