Ten Years After

Ten Years After

Do you feel safer today than you did on September 11, 2001? According to a recent USA TODAY/Gallup poll, most Americans do indeed believe there is a much lower risk of terrorist acts today than there was during the period following the 9/11 attacks (38% today vs. 85% in 2001). Of course, 38% is still a fairly significant number of people, and it was only a few months ago (May 2011) that a similar Gallup poll found 62% of Americans fearful of terrorist attacks in the near future. But the trendline over the past decade clearly points to a feeling of greater security.

That security, however, has come with a cost—namely, faith in the U.S. Government’s ability to protect its citizens. When asked shortly after 9/11 how much confidence they had in the government’s ability to prevent future attacks, 41% said they had “a great deal” of confidence. Today, ten years later, that percentage has dropped almost in half, to 22%.

Part of the reason for that lessening of faith stems, no doubt, from the feeling—real or imagined—that the government has done a better job at annoying its own citizens (particularly at airport security check-ins) than it has at keeping the bad guys at bay. That same USA TODAY/Gallup study shows that right after 9/11, nearly half (47%) of all respondents were willing to let the U.S. Government do “whatever it takes” to protect them against terrorists, but today, ten years later with no attacks during the past decade, that percentage has dropped to 25%.

The poll didn’t directly ask this question, but I would imagine the responses reflect skepticism in general toward politicians of all stripes, given the economic malaise and high unemployment rate. Lost in all the one-upsmanship of the budget battle this summer was the news that the Department of Homeland Security has reduced its grant program funding by $780 million for 2011, which could have significant impact on the national supply chain. For instance, the port security grant program’s funding has dropped from $288 million in 2010 to $235 million in 2011, an 18% decline. Funding for the freight rail security grant program dropped by 50%, from $14 million to $7 million.

While politicians debate the propriety of establishing an “infrastructure bank,” a recent study conducted by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) predicts that if we don’t do something about the deteriorating state of our surface transportation, and do it soon, it could cost 876,000 jobs and suppress GDP growth by $897 billion by 2020.

The ASCE predicts that failing infrastructure will end up adding $430 billion to transportation costs over the next decade. “Investing in infrastructure contributes to creating jobs,” points out Kathy Caldwell, president of ASCE, “while failing to do so hurts ‘Main Street’ America.” If that’s not scary enough, the ASCE predicts that if nothing is done to shore up our infrastructure, the total cost will amount to roughly $1,600 per year per family. Of course, civil engineers would stand to gain from a dramatic increase in infrastructure funding, so their apocalyptic predictions have to be somewhat tempered by their self interest in the matter.

“Consumers and investors are skeptical regarding improvement in economic conditions,” says Hal Vandiver, executive consultant with the Material Handling Industry of America (MHIA). “Industrial production activity appears to be softening and factory operating rates (utilization) are forecasted to improve only modestly.” Even so, material handling equipment orders grew 17% in the first half of 2011, according to the MHIA, although the rate of growth will slow to 11% for all of 2011 and to 7% in 2012.

One obvious lesson learned from 9/11 is that U.S. citizens were able to come together as a group and agree that terrorist attacks on our soil are unacceptable, and that we will do whatever it takes to ensure they never happen again. Thanks to our unflinching resolve, we have indeed prevented another 9/11-type of attack from occurring, and while our roller-coaster economy seems to have plummeted more than it has risen over the past decade, there’s no mistaking that the United States remains the leader of the free world and the hub of the global supply chain. For all that’s gone wrong since 9/11, we’ve done a lot more things right.

Follow Dave’s supply chain musings at twitter.com/supplychaindave.

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