Duke’s Aaron “Ronnie” Chatterji, the Mark Burgess & Lisa Benson-Burgess distinguished professor of business and public policy, was named White House coordinator for the implementation of the CHIPS and Science Act in September.
Chatterji has worked in the Fuqua School of Business and the Sanford School of Public Policy since 2006 but has been on leave since 2021 when he was appointed chief economist of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
President Joseph Biden signed the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors and Science Act into law in August after it received bipartisan support in Congress. The bill aims to address the global semiconductor shortage by strengthening American manufacturing of computer chips and funding research and development.
Chatterji was tasked with ensuring that the Biden administration’s priorities are reflected in the bill’s implementation.
Chatterji said his main duty is to establish “consistency and synergy between the CHIPS and Science Act and all the other things the administration is doing, like the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Inflation Reduction Act and the American Rescue Plan.”
Semiconductors, or computer chips, power everything from automobiles and smartphones to national defense equipment, according to Chatterji. The vast majority are produced in East Asia, and less than 12% are now manufactured in the United States.
Demand for semiconductors has soared in recent years due to an increase in remote work and learning, while the COVID-19 pandemic crippled supply chains. The result was a global semiconductor shortage, which led to price increases for products like automobiles and contributed to high inflation rates.
The CHIPS and Science Act aims to prevent shortages in the event of future crises by channeling over $50 billion into semiconductor research, development and manufacturing in the United States.
“It has strong support from Republicans and Democrats for both economic and national security reasons,” Chatterji said.
Chatterji outlined three key challenges that the US government faces in implementing the CHIPS and Science Act.
First, the government has to negotiate deals with companies involved in manufacturing computer chips. Chatterji and his colleagues must ensure that “the government gets a good deal, and that we get the chips we need from a national perspective.”
The government also needs to find workers to staff the new manufacturing facilities, many of which are being built in sparsely populated rural areas.
The final challenge is a geopolitical one: the United States needs to cooperate with its allies that are building up their own supply chains.
“We need to make sure that together with these allies, we do this in a coordinated fashion so we're not all building the same thing and prices aren't being driven up for the same resources,” Chatterji said.
Before working for the Biden administration, Chatterji worked for former President Barack Obama as a senior economist at the White House Council of Economic Advisers. In 2020, he ran unsuccessfully for North Carolina State Treasurer, winning the Democratic primary election and earning endorsements from Biden, Obama and Vice President Kamala Harris.
Chatterji intends to return to Duke after serving the Biden administration and hopes to integrate some of the lessons he’s learned into the classroom.
“When I think of the strategic decisions that chip companies’ CEOs are making, as they seek funding from the government, and they balance domestic and national markets, I think, ‘Wow, that would be a great case for my students,’” he said.
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