The Biden administration has selected a retired four-star U.S. Army general to lead efforts to improve cargo flow at U.S. ports and untangle other slowdowns in the sprawling domestic freight supply chain.

The White House and the U.S. Dept. of Transportation announced on May 27 that Army Gen. Stephen R. Lyons, former head of the U.S. Defense Dept. Transportation Command, is named Port and Supply Chain Envoy to the administration's Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force. He began his new job during the week of May 23, said DOT.

Lyons succeeds John D. Porcari, who was deputy DOT secretary in the Obama administration from 2009 to 2014 and and later an adviser to the Biden transition team. Porcari has been the port and supply chain envoy since last August.

A DOT spokesperson told ENR via email, “When envoy Porcari took on this role it was always going to be temporary.” The official said that Porcari “originally planned to stay through February 2022 and we’re grateful that he stayed longer.”

The official added, “We are focused on building a long-term integrated structure at DOT to address supply chain policy and bringing on General Lyons will help do that.”

In remarks at Lyons' retirement ceremony last fall, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III praised him as "a master of logistics." Among Lyons' many achievements over a 38-year-Army career was his key role in the 2021 evacuation of 124,000 people from Kabul, Afghanistan, the largest U.S. airlift evacuation ever, Austin said.

Port Officials Weigh In

Mario Cordero, executive director of the Port of Long Beach in Califorina said Lyons is "a highly qualified individual who is most certainly up to the challenge of finding solutions and remedies for the issues that face the country’s supply chain.”

The American Association of Port Authorities said the selection “will uphold the progress in port fluidity and overall supply chain resilience,” adding that “the presence of high officials exclusively dedicated to ports and the supply chain makes an incalculable difference.”

Administration and port officials note progress in alleviating supply chain snarls. U.S. seaports are moving 15% to 20% more freight than they did before the pandemic, says the ports association.

DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg said there have been improvements in freight movement but he added, "Global supply chains will remain fragile as long as the pandemic continues to disrupt ports and factories around the world and a lot of work remains to reduce shipping delays and costs for American families."

The administration has been engaged for months in a multi-pronged program to deal with supply chain problems.

Infrastructure Port Funding Rises

Added funding for port infrastructure is one part of the remedy, although it will take many months for those projects to be designed and built and have an impact on freight operations.

One port infrastructure development occurred last December, when DOT's Maritime Administration announced the award of 25 Port Infrastructure Development Program grants, totaling $241 million.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act increased that program funding to $450 million for fiscal year 2022. Congress provideed an added boost of $234 million in the 2022 omnibus appropriations law. 

Applications closed on May 16 for the 2022 round of the grants, which now totals more than $600 million.

A Veteran Head of DOD's TRANSCOM

Lyons led the Transportation Command, or TRANSCOM, from August 2018 until last October. It oversees a huge transportation and logistics program around the globe to support the U.S. military.

In the past it has provided land, sea and air mobility to support such military operations as Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom, as well as peacekeeping efforts in countries such as Somalia, Haiti and Rwanda, says a Congressional Research Service backgrounder

The command daily carries out more than 240 air missions, has 20 ships underway and sends some 1,500 ground shipments, the CRS report said.

Lyons said in a statement that the administration “has made tremendous progress on addressing the supply chain disruption we’ve seen as we recover from the pandemic.”

He anticipated "continuing to engage industry, labor and port stakeholders to improve the fluidity of our supply chains, cut down on shipping costs and ultimately save money for the American people.”

Members of the administration's supply chain task force, established in June 2021, include Buttigieg, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo,

Administration and industry officials praised Porcari for his work as supply chain envoy. Buttigieg said he "has done a tremendous job addressing challenges at every stage."

In addition to his DOT past role, Porcari twice served as Maryland Transportation Secretary and is fortmer president of conultant WSP Global's advisory services unit. He also was interim executive director of the Gateway Development Corp., which is overseeing major planned passenger rail improvements between northern New Jersey and New York City.