The Invent Here, Make Here for Homeland Security Act passed a key Senate committee on Wednesday.
You may remember the sad saga of the vanadium redox flow battery. Described by NPR as “the size of the refrigerator,” this battery has the ability “to change the world” because they can charge and discharge energy for 30 years — and hold enough energy to power a house.
These batteries were invented in the United States, and American companies were ready and able to manufacture them in the United States, too. But then the Department of Energy stepped in… and sent production to China.
You know, China. Our top geopolitical rival.
“This is technology made from taxpayer dollars. It was invented by a national lab, and it’s deployed in China, and it’s held in China,” said Joanne Skievaski, vice president of finance for Forever Energy, one of the American companies that wants to make the batteries. “To say it’s frustrating is an understatement.”
The story is certainly frustrating, but there may be a sliver of a silver lining. New bipartisan legislation called the Invent Here, Make Here for Homeland Security Act aims to make it a whole lot more difficult for agencies to send technology developed with taxpayer dollars overseas, and on Wednesday it passed the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Current law actually already requires products developed with federally funded research to be Made in the USA. But this commonsense requirement is “routinely waived,” according to Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who cosponsored the legislation with Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio).
The duo’s bill would make it harder for government agencies to issue waivers by requiring them to be made in accordance with new Buy America reporting requirements included in the new infrastructure law. Furthermore, the bill would prohibit taxpayer-funded inventions from being made in “countries of concern” like China, North Korea, Iran, and Russia.
Baldwin said of the bill:
“Building on our Buy America standards we championed in the bipartisan infrastructure legislation, our Invent Here, Make Here Act will create and sustain good paying jobs here at home and ensure that the high-tech products are made in America.”
“…when the government spends American taxpayer money on inventing a product, it’s common sense that product should be made in America and not by our adversaries.”
There’s absolutely no reason why advanced technology that is invented in the United States thanks to the financial support of American taxpayers should ever be made overseas. Not only is it a missed opportunity to create jobs and build manufacturing capacity, doing so hands over hard-earned American innovation to rival countries!
Unfortunately, it’s probably too late to win back the advantage when it comes to vanadium redox flow batteries. But via new laws like the CHIPS and Science Act and Inflation Reduction Act, Congress just allocated a whole lot of taxpayer money to spur new innovation. This time around, the United States must do all it can to ensure that the new technology invented thanks to funding from these bills stays in the United States.
Enforcing Buy America is critical, and it appears to us that the Invent Here, Make Here for Homeland Security Act would be another step forward. Congress should pass this bill.