The Biden government’s new port envoy arrives at a time when supply chains across the country have been disrupted by the pandemic and record numbers of ships are bottlenecked near Seattle and other west coast ports.
The White House said Friday it had asked a senior transportation officer to serve as the new “envoy” for the country’s ports. The new envoy, John D. Porcari, was previously Deputy Secretary of Transportation in the Obama administration. He was an advisor to President Joe Biden prior to his inauguration, and some union leaders had hoped he could be elected Secretary of Transportation.
In the role of envoy, Porcari will work with a task force from the White House and the Department of Transportation to facilitate the free flow of goods across the oceans and across the country. The pandemic has resulted in rolling closures of factories and ports around the world, disrupted fine-grained supply chains, slowed deliveries and contributed to soaring prices in the United States.
The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, important links with Asia, are particularly hard hit as ships wait offshore and cargo is sometimes reloaded onto a railroad car for nearly two weeks. A record of 71 ships waited at anchor off the two ports on Friday, surpassing the previous high of 68 ships earlier this month, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California.
Delays in southern California have created a “domino effect” that has worsened the backlog of a week or more at the Seattle and Tacoma terminals, said Melanie Stambaugh, a spokeswoman for the Northwest Seaport Alliance, which manages Puget Sound’s major container terminals.
Ten ships are currently anchored in Puget Sound waiting at the terminal site to unload their cargo, Stambaugh said, with four more ships on the way. Before the pandemic, it was rare for ships to wait at anchor in Puget Sound; So many ships have lined up here in recent months that the US Coast Guard has sent some to a standstill in a seldom-used port on Whidbey Island.
“I look forward to getting started right away and working immediately with industry, workers and other port stakeholders to address these challenges and build a more resilient, forward-looking supply chain that will propel our economy into the future,” Porcari said in a statement.
The White House said its work on supply chains has shown that problems in ports – some of which have allegedly been around for years – require the attention of a dedicated official.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Porcari’s leadership in the public and private infrastructure sectors uniquely qualifies him to work with stakeholders and federal agencies to address supply chain disruptions.
Porcari was previously Maryland’s transportation secretary twice, a job that also made him chairman of the Maryland Port Commission.
Biden ordered a supply chain review in February and formed a task force to work on it in June. The federal government is trying to help eliminate pandemic-related disruptions while at the same time addressing what it sees as decades of problems that affect the supply of products such as semiconductors and batteries for electric vehicles.
Biden signed an executive order in July aimed at increasing competition among shippers and hopes to secure $ 17 billion in ports and waterways spending under the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by the Senate. However, the benefits of these measures are unlikely to be felt in the short term.
The Seattle Times business reporter Katherine Anne Long contributed to the coverage.