Strategic National Stockpile not built for this pandemic, experts say

A shortage of critical medical supplies continues and may be worse because the Strategic National Stockpile isn’t designed to handle a pandemic of the scale of COVID-19, three supply chain experts wrote Sept. 17 in Harvard Business Review

The piece was written by Daniel Joseph Finkenstadt, a U.S. Air Force major and assistant professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif.; Robert Handfield, a professor of operations and supply chain management at North Carolina State University in Raleigh; and Peter Guinto, chief of contracts in the Air Force’s Medium Altitude Unmanned Aerial Systems Division in Dayton, Ohio.

All three are part of the federal government’s Supply Chain Task Force formed in April by HHS and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to address the limited supply of critical protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The authors identified three major systemic issues with the stockpile: 

  1. Its profile is too low. Funding for replenishing the stockpile has been repeatedly cut and has too small a small team within HHS, the authors wrote. It needs a higher profile and greater influence, they argued, and should be guided by a board of governors representing departments that include the U.S. Defense Department and the FDA.
  2. Its information is inadequate. The stockpile needs planning, including analyzing markets to assess global availability of supplies to be able to make quick and efficient decisions in a crisis. To do so, it needs real-time, dependable data from a broad array of sectors, the authors said. But its inventory management systems haven’t been upgraded since the agency was founded in 2004, meaning it has very little ability to “see” into its stockpiles. The authors also said hospitals have been reluctant to share any type of information on their stocks out of fear their supplies would be taken away and sent to other hospitals. The stockpile needs legislation and policy changes to give it access to the information it needs, the authors said.
  3. It lacks crucial expertise. While employees have been doing their best in the COVID-19 crisis, the authors said they found key gaps in expertise at the stockpile. There’s a shortage of people capable of understanding the current state of play in the supply chain. The agency needs sourcing analysts for each major category of material to learn where shortages and surpluses are, the authors wrote. They recommended the assembling of a pandemic planning team to hold monthly inventory reviews and forecast various risk events. 

“Getting control of the supply chain for emergency materials is absolutely critical to the nation’s short-term health and its long-term resistance,” the authors concluded. 

Read the full article here.

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