Remarks by President Biden in Meeting with the Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force

Published: Wed Dec 22 2021

South Court Auditorium
Eisenhower Executive Office Building

10:48 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Hello, folks. How are you? I want to thank the business leaders for joining us today, as well as members of my Cabinet and the White House team.

Before getting an update from my Supply Chain Task Force, I want to say a word about the progress our economy has made this year and how my administration will continue to tackle the cost increase that the American people are facing.

And at the end of 2021, with what one analyst described as the "strongest first-year economic track record of any President in the last 50 years": nearly 6 million new jobs, a record number for a new President, because of my staff and my Cabinet; unemployment down to 4.2 percent, three years ahead of the predicted time it would take to get to that number; applicants for new small businesses up 30 percent compared to before the pandemic; and the fastest economic growth in nearly 40 years. There's more as well.

Today, America is the only leading economy in the world where household incomes and the economy as a whole are stronger than they were before the pandemic, even accounting for price increases.

The economy I inherited nearly a year ago wasn't just in crisis; it wasn't working for working people. And I told you that's the reason I ran. It's about time the middle class and working-class people got a shot.

Year after year, economic growth was too low, wages for the middle class were stagnant, and the number of people starting new small businesses was declining.

Over this year, we've acted, from the American Rescue Plan to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, to change this trajectory: to build an economy from the bottom up and middle out, and to finally give - and, by the way, when that occurs, wealthy people do very, very well. We're not trying to punish anybody; they do very well. Working people in this country - the wages and benefits they deserve, it's about time it starts - they start to see it.

To create an economy with more innovation and faster growth. And we're making progress. We got a way to go. We're making progress.

Still, top of mind for me is what is top of mind for so many families: the pinch of prices and the cost.

Look, addressing these costs has been and will continue to be my top priority the entire administration.

And the way to do this is not to slow down our economic turnaround, not to step back from this - all the progress, but to build on it.

We can and we will address prices by expanding productivity capacity in our economy so we move more goods to market, get more Americans working, encouraging more investments and innovation, and making sure American consumers see those benefits at the store and at the pump when they go to fill up their cars.

Let me describe three specific areas that I'm focusing on:

First, supply chains. And I owe a lot to the people - the business people on this call - on this Zoom. Earlier this fall, we heard a lot of dire warnings about supply chain problems leading to a crisis around the holidays, so we acted. A lot of recommendations of the people that you see on the screen here. I wish we were all able to do this in person.

We brought together business and labor leaders to solve problems.

And much - you know, the much-predicted crisis didn't occur. Packages are moving. Gifts are being delivered. Shelves are not empty.

Experts in this field look at two statistics for retail inventories, which is how many goods retail - how many good[s] retailers have on hand and on - the phrase, "on-shelf availability," which measures how many goods are actually on the shelves there to be purchased.

Today, retail inventories are up 3 percent from last year. Inventories are healthy. And on-shelf availability, before the pandemic, was about 91 percent. Today, it's at 90 percent - 90 percent. I'm sure you can go and find some shelf where it's empty because particular sort of gifts are very popular - I don't know. But 90 percent availability.

And delivery times for this season for FedEx, UPS, and the U.S. Postal Service are faster than before the pandemic, even as Americans have purchased a record amount of goods.

This is in part due to the progress we've made at our nation's ports, which are now moving historic amounts of goods.

You know, after working with our administration, the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have nearly cut in half the number of those great big containers you see sitting on a dock for more than eight days. This is striking progress since November.

In fact, right now, the number of containers moving through our ports is higher than ever. It's because we've sped up - we - because when I sat down and talked with the folks running the ports and the longshoremen, they agreed to speed up every step in the process: the ports, the trains, the trucking.

My Bipartisan Infrastructure Law - there's $17 billion to speed up and modernize our ports.

And tomorrow, the Department of Transportation is going to announce over $200 million in grants to ports nationwide. And we're making significant investment in freight rail as well.

And we're also working to unstick bottlenecks between the ports and the stores by getting more trucks moving all around the country.

We've heard a lot about the need for more truck drivers, and it's real. And we've gotten to work to address it.

For example, I want to - I see Marty Walsh, my Labor Secretary. Marty, you've done a hell of a job, pal, cutting the red tape so that companies can set up registered apprenticeships for truck drivers in two days instead of two months, which it was before you took over.

These apprenticeships are going to help new drivers get trained better and faster, and help companies retain drivers in a field that has a lot of turnover.

So I'm eager to hear about the new partnerships with trucking companies and states to get more truckers on the road and into good-paying jobs.

We also need to build resilience into our supply chains. We can never again be left vulnerable the way we were in the early days of COVID-19.

One important way to do this is to make more things here in America. That has been a goal of mine since day one of my administration.

We've added more than 300,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs - more than 300,000 added since I took office on January 20th. And we're going to keep at it, because the more - the more of what we buy in America should be also made in America.

The second area: protecting American consumers.

Take gas prices. Months ago, I saw oil production wasn't keeping up with the demand as the world started to get moving again, which could drive up prices at the expense of our consumers. That's why I worked with international partners to coordinate the release of oil from our oil reserves and theirs.

Now, gas prices are coming down more than 10 cents a gallon nationally. Gas prices in 21 states now are at their historic averages, before the pandemic. Historic averages. That's good news for Americans hitting the road this week.

But beyond energy, we need to make sure that there is a robust competition across industries. Competing is what encourages companies to innovate, encourages them to invest, to build, and offer lower prices.

I'm going to be convening my Competition Council early next year, after - in January - to keep pushing for more bold action, because healthy competition is a hallmark of healthy capitalism.

Thirdly, I'm working to reduce the largest cost burdening households and budgets. And the biggest weapon - (coughs) - excuse me - in our arsenal is my Build Back Better Act, which will reduce what families have to pay for prescription drugs, for healthcare, for childcare, and so much more.

The bill is paid fully. Fully paid for. It won't increase the deficit. And nobody making less than $400,000 a year will pay a penny more in federal taxes.

Top economic forecasters from Wall Street firms reinforced just this week that failing to act on the Build Back Better plan will mean less economic growth this year. Let me say it again - not a liberal think tank; Wall Street: Failing to make these investments is going to slow growth, not increase it.

Look, if - if we, in fact, seize this opportunity, I think we can lower costs for families, get even more people working, and lower price pressures long term.

And we're going to keep working on all these fronts because it is so clearly what American families need right now.

I'm going to now turn this over. There's much more to say, but maybe I've already said too much. I want to have an interchange with you guys. But now I want to turn it over to Brian Deese to begin this meeting. We'll move - I may have some questions, in fairness.

MR. DEESE: Great. Thank you, Mr. President. And we will move immediately into the first section of the agenda to focus on ports and logistics, the progress made, and additional steps to go forward. And we'll hear from John Porcari, Fred Smith, and Chris Connor, and then - and then turn the floor for some questions.

So, John, over to you.

MR. PORCARI: Thank you, Brian. Mr. President, we're making real and sustained progress at the ports. There's increased fluidity and velocity in the goods movement.

As you reported, Los Angeles and Long Beach, which together are 40 percent of the imports to America, are moving record volumes of goods. And the percentage of - the number of long-dwelling containers - the ones that have been there eight days or more - has been cut in half.

At the Port of Long Beach, since mid-October, the dwell times for those containers has dropped from 12 days to 5 days; that's 140 percent improvement. And in Los Angeles, from nine days to four days - 125 percent improvement.

We are holding Monday, Wednesday, Friday morning action group meetings with leadership at the ports, with labor, the ocean carriers, terminal operators, railroads, and truckers to work through problems in real-time and talk to each other through these problems.

We're moving towards 24/7 operations at the ports. One of the ocean carriers, CMA CGM, has opened their gates 24/7 at their marine terminal and put an incentive of $100 per container for moving the containers that have been there zero to eight days and $200 to do it nights and weekends.

The two -

THE PRESIDENT: That's to get them off the port, on a truck or train, or heading to a warehouse or something? Is that the idea?

MR. PORCARI: That's exactly right, sir. That's to increase the velocity of the containers and move them as quickly as they hit the docks.


MR. PORCARI: The two railroads, BNSF and Union Pacific, have put incentives on those moves as well. And PierPASS, which is the fee on truckers using the ports, has been waived nights and weekends to increase 24/7 operations as well.

Innovations around the country include the Port of Savannah with the Georgia Ports Authority, with federal help, has put together a number of pop-up sites inland - in some cases, hundreds of miles inland from the port - to move by rail and then truck both imports and exports. And about 500,000 containers a year will ultimately be moved that way.

So, together, these innovations and hard work have really increased the fluidity and velocity at the ports. They've helped activate increased activity all along the goods movement chain. And the net result is the shelves are stocked, packages are on porches.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you. Thanks for the great job you're doing for me. I really mean it. Thanks for joining us.

MR. DEESE: And we'll just turn to Fred Smith now. Fred has been an integral partner in helping us identify bottlenecks and ideas but, more importantly, in executing and moving more packages in this period than ever.

So, give us your assessment, if you could, Fred, and thoughts about things we need to focus on going forward.

THE PRESIDENT: Fred, you've moved a few packages in your day, haven't you? (Laughs.)

MR. SMITH: We have, Mr. President. Thank you for having me. And let me -


MR. SMITH: - (inaudible) John Porcari and his task force opening up the upstream parts of the supply chain. The head of FedEx logistics has worked closely with him, and they've just done a great job getting these empty containers off the porch and more chassis available to move things inland.

On the downstream side of the house, of course, we're heavily involved there with our FedEx Ground and FedEx Express folks. And I'd like to commend our 600,000-plus team members for delivering all sorts of things - probably most importantly, the role we played on distributing these vaccines to get the pandemic behind us.

Some statistics, I think, that might be helpful to you, Mr. President: The first weekend of the peak season after Thanksgiving, we moved 100 million packages. And we were able to do that because -

THE PRESIDENT: One hundred million?

MR. SMITH: Yes, sir. And we were able to do that because in 2021 we had had an aggressive expansion program underway - major investments. We added 14.4 million square feet, which is the equivalent of about 300 football fields of sortation capacity, 24 major expansions. And I might add that about half a dozen of those came on just in the nick of time in November to make sure that supply chains were moving. And I think this is also true of UPS and the Postal Service, who have done a good job in opening up capacity.

The biggest issue that we experienced over the summer was lack of labor in the - for sortation, to a lesser degree on the delivery side.

To give you one statistic which will illustrate that point: We processed approximately 52,000 employment applications - online, of course, these days - in May - May the 8th, that week. Over the last few weeks, we've exceeded 111,000 applications. So that's beginning to open up the supply chain.

And there are still pockets - there are several articles in the Business Press today in that regard. Just in the last quarter, working around those isolated pockets, it cost us about $240 million. So, getting to your point on inflation: As those begin to smooth out, I think you'll see less pressure on pricing in certain product categories.

So, the supply chain issues are not all solved, but there's a lot of effort underway to solve them, and we're optimistic that people will have a good peak season and most of Santa Claus's products will be delivered to the consumers. And the retailers have done a great job of, as you mentioned, stocking their shelves. And many of them are great customers too.

So, we - we're happy to take stuff into stores, into businesses; vaccines into hospitals; and e-commerce packages to people's home. So, we think the peak season is going to be a good one.

THE PRESIDENT: I thought you were Santa Claus. (Laughter.) You're doing a hell of a job and got a big sleigh. Thank you.

MR. DEESE: Thank you, Fred.

Chris, can you give us a perspective from the - from the ports nationally - what you're seeing, where the pockets of innovation are, and what we need to be focusing on going forward?

MR. CONNOR: Sure, Brian. Thank you very much, Mr. President and members of the Supply Chain Disruption Task Force. Thanks for this opportunity to speak with you this morning.

I'll just hit on, you know, the headlines. And some of these have already been alluded to, but I think the big headline here is: Freight movement off the ports is improving, and that's happening due to extraordinary efforts, collaborative efforts between all supply chain participants, coupled with creative solutions which are easing congestion.

Despite all reports to the contrary over several months, it is going to be a good holiday season. Witness the National Retail Federation, on Monday, published an article where they say they believe that 2021 will be, quote, unquote, "the best holiday season ever," with holiday sales rising 11.5 percent above 2020.

We know a lot of those holiday sales come from importing goods overseas.

So, I think what that tells us, sir, is despite the systemic flaws that are still there - and we still have a battle ahead of us - there's been some unbelievable human efforts and collaboration happening.

So, Mr. President, the dominoes are beginning to move in the right direction. But I want to stress this is a significant cultural and operating model change. So, continued focus and vigilance is an absolute.

A few of the key lessons that we've learned: The extended port and terminal hours of operation were needed and will continue to be needed simply to keep pace with the 24 by 7 operating models from some of our primary trading partners. These extended hours had to start in the U.S. ports, and now need to spread - as they are beginning to spread - across the entire supply chain.

Another lesson learned would be that incentives, even incentives that don't actually get put in place, like the levees for dwelling containers, they work. John also alluded to other types of incentives that ocean carriers and (inaudible) operators are putting in place. These have definitely contributed to the easing up.

Off-port property, like the pop-up container yards, are a crucial element in accelerating freight movement. Secretary Pete, I believe you saw that firsthand last Friday down in Savannah - the four yards that the Georgia Ports Authority has put in place. This is just smart business and will allow us to move more freight through that footprint.

Finally, looking ahead and a few comments on the IIJA, which was signed into law on November 15th: As the President mentioned, this includes significant funding for ports and is sorely needed and is a crucial step in repositioning America's competitive posture in global trade.

The port industry looks forward to working with DOT and MARAD to submit grant applications for this next round - this plus-up round - and, of course, to secure grant funding for resiliency and intermodal connectivity improvements at ports small and large across the country.

Sustained federal investment in port infrastructure will spur public-private partnerships, which will further strengthen our nation's competitiveness.

And finally, we're pretty excited about the mandate in IIGA [IIJA], which calls for the establishment of the Office of Multimodal Freight Infrastructure. And we look forward to working with that office and it serving as a strategic, nonpartisan, and geographically agnostic body to help develop smart and actionable direction and policy recommendations for the future.

Mr. President, thank you again for this opportunity.

THE PRESIDENT: Chris, I want to emphasize, if I may: We get through this season, that's - that's good stuff. Lots going on. But I really - one of the reasons I insisted there be so much billions of dollars in the four ports in the infrastructure plan is I - I want this to be universal.

You know, I - I don't want this just - just focused just on the big ports. There's a lot we can do, as you know, and I'm anxious to literally - I mean it sincerely - sit down with you and your colleagues and come up with a game plan, some of which you outlined here, as to how to get this done.

And Pete is ready to do it. I mean, we're ready to move on this. And so - because I think we can not only - you know that old expression, "Make - make lemonade out of lemons"? I think we got a shot here to come out of this whole crisis not only to - that phrase "build back better," but to literally be in a better circumstance next year than we were before the cri- - before the crisis hit.

I mean, I think - and, anyway, we should be leading the world, and I think we can. But thank you.

MR. CONNOR: I agree. Thank you, sir.

MR. DEESE: Thank you, Mr. President. We're going to pause quickly and give the press an opportunity to depart. And then we're going to turn to the next section of our meeting on inventories and trucking.

Q Mr. President, have you gotten a PCR test today?


Q Mr. President, the trucking industry is petitioning the Supreme Court to fight your vaccine mandate. Do you think -

Q (Inaudible) COVID test today?

THE PRESIDENT: Now, look, if you want to talk to me about what's on here, you can ask me a question. One of the things -

(Cross-talk by reporters.)

Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait a minute. I - you asked the first question: Did I get my test today? Yes, I did, before I walked in here. Okay?

Q Was it negative?

THE PRESIDENT: And I've - I haven't gotten the result yet. I - as I walked over.

Q Mr. President, the trucking industry is petitioning the Supreme Court to repeal your vaccine mandate. They think that it's going to harm the supply chain recovery. What do you say?

THE PRESIDENT: I say no. Thank you.

11:12 A.M. EST

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