* The Defense Production Act lies at a unique nexus between private industry and federal investment for the purposes of national security. In many respects, the act is well suited to address key vulnerabilities in the industrial base. However, it currently wades into waters beyond the scope of national security. The act must maintain a narrow focus on national defense and avoid intervention in areas that do not fall within a strict concept of national security.
Glaring weaknesses in the current defense industrial base are highlighted in the Trump administration's recent report, "Assessing and Strengthening the Manufacturing and Defense Industrial Base and Supply Chain Resiliency of the United States." This report points to the severity of the issues and demonstrates the weakening of the U.S. strategic advantage when it comes to the industrial base. Commissioned by Executive Order 13806, the report lays out five macro forces currently undermining the strength of the industrial base, to include the "decline of U.S. manufacturing base capabilities and capacity" and "industrial policies of competitor nations." Each of these macro-level forces are driving risk in the domestic industrial base, and therefore to national security, and can be at least partially addressed by ensuring that the Defense Production Act upholds a strict understanding of national defense.
In its current form, the act can be used for a number of things not pertinent to national defense. These non-defense related efforts detract from the value of the authority and potentially misdirect defense funding.
The definition of national defense, according to the act, permits the use of its authorities to be used to support domestic preparedness for emergencies and recovery from natural disasters. Conflating humanitarian disasters with national security issues and implying that they merit similar government responses hinders the free market's ability to act where it can be of best use. Moreover, use of the act's funding for these kind of emergencies hinders the military rebuilding that is necessary for the U.S. to remain strong on the world stage by detouring resources away from its intended target.
Following the destructive 2017 natural disaster season, the Federal Emergency Management Agency invoked Title I of the DPA--which authorizes the prioritization of defense programs, contracts and orders and the allocation of resources accordingly--to provide food and water assistance and...