Jun 24, 2021 - Technology

Interview: Commerce secretary on U.S. chip crisis

Photo of commerce secretary Gina Raimondo.

Gina Raimondo. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Making more semiconductors in the U.S. is an urgent matter of both economic and national security, commerce secretary Gina Raimondo told Axios on Wednesday.

Why it matters: The U.S., which once accounted for more than a third of global chip production, now makes just 12%.

The big picture: It's not just that the U.S. doesn't make as many chips as it used to. The most advanced chips are manufactured abroad, nearly all in Taiwan or South Korea, Raimondo said. "We’re very vulnerable if we have such a higher percentage of chips being made in Taiwan," Raimondo said. "Right now we don’t make any leading edge chips in America — zero percent."

Between the lines: While Raimondo said she was heartened to see $52 billion in funding for the industry pass the Senate and is hopeful the House will also approve the money, she said that will need to be matched two-to-one by private investment for the U.S. to regain its edge.

  • "$52 billion is not nearly enough," Raimondo said.

It's also unlikely that the U.S. can catch up quickly just by backing American companies. Many have suggested the fastest way to boost domestic production of leading edge chips is to get current leaders Samsung and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. to make more chips here.

Raimondo declined to name specific targets, but agreed that getting overseas companies to make chips in the U.S. could be part of the answer. "As long as they are companies from allied countries that share our values, I do think it makes sense."

Yes, but: All of this investment will do little to ease the most pressing issue in the chip business: a global shortage that has hobbled the auto industry and slowed the production of other goods.

  • While there is little to be done to immediately boost supply, Raimondo said that the industry can operate more efficiently with more transparency between customers and suppliers, something her department is working to improve.
  • "We're doing everything we can and I think it's having some impact," Raimondo said.

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