“Getting the lights turned back on” — homeland security concerns from two DHS Chiefs

By Steven Capozzola
Mar 04 2013 |

Two Secretaries of Homeland Security agree—the continued outsourcing of U.S. manufacturing is a national security problem.

This morning, the POLITICO’s Chief White House Correspondent Mike Allen moderated a panel discussion celebrating the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) 10th Anniversary.

During the event, former DHS Secretary Gov. Tom Ridge and current DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano expressed serious concerns about America’s increasing reliance on overseas producers.  Specifically, the two say this dependence can slow the nation’s ability to recover from a crisis, and Napolitano cited the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy as a recent example.

Gov. Tom Ridge: “Take a look at critical pieces of our infrastructure that we have offshored. And so that if you have a problem with the electric grid, if you have problems in other areas of our economy, the dependence, our international dependency on basic manufacturing goods is a national security problem.”

Gov. Janet Napolitano: “Utilities use these big transformers to supply power. They are all made overseas. We have lost any domestic production whatsoever. And they’re big and they’re really expensive and they take a long time to move. After Sandy, we needed transformers and that whole process, I think, fed into some of the delay in getting the lights turned back on.”

Last summer, the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) released a report co-authored by Ridge and Col. Robert B. Stephan, a former Assistant Secretary for Homeland Security for Infrastructure Protection, that found the U.S. at risk of being dangerously unprepared for serious emergencies due to offshoring of critical manufacturing sectors.

Among Ridge and Stephan’s key concerns was America’s overwhelming reliance on foreign suppliers for everything from steel, cement, batteries, and critical high-technology components to every day medical supplies such as antibiotics and penicillin.  

The two reserved special concern for the nation’ commercial power grid, which is comprised of more than 200,000 miles of high-voltage lines, thousands of generation plants, and millions of digital controls.  They see the electrical grid as being particularly vulnerable due to increased user demand, aging infrastructure, decreased resilience, and industrial sabotage.

In a subsequent editorial for the 2012 Republican National Convention special edition of ‘Human Events,’ Stephan expressed some of his misgivings: “Despite considerable investment in national preparedness, our population centers and critical infrastructures remain inherently exposed to these threats. Tellingly, vulnerabilities to the electric grid, transportation systems, commercial facilities, water and wastewater treatment plants, communications systems, petroleum refineries, etc., derive from …our growing reliance on offshore suppliers and ‘just-in-time’ operations tied to a highly interconnected global economy and international supply chains.”

Such concerns about aging infrastructure and vulnerability come just as President Obama has proposed a plan to “Make America a Magnet for Jobs” by investing in infrastructure.  A key element of his proposal would be to repair many of America’s 70,000 “failing” bridges.

AAM supports such investment and is urging the Administration to work with Congressional leaders on adopting a large-scale, long-term infrastructure program of at least $500 billion over six years.  Additionally, any such investment should be “made in America,” and AAM stands ready to work with Congress to ensure that ‘Buy America’ laws are strengthened and vigorously enforced in any such effort.