Bipartisan Senate Bill Aims to Help Close Buy American Loopholes

By Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch
Jan 10 2018 |
The Mario M. Cuomo Bridge in New York, pictured during the construction process, was built according to Buy American preferences. But some federally-funded projects abuse the Buy American waiver system and are built with foreign-made goods. | Photo courtesy New York State Thruway Authority

Legislation would create a new website to shine a spotlight on waivers.

A bipartisan group of Senators introduced legislation this week to make sure waivers to Buy American laws are not overused.

Buy American gives preference to American-made goods during the federal government procurement process. For example, if the construction of a bridge is being funded by federal tax dollars, Buy American ensures it is built with American-made iron and steel.

These preferences are popular among the public and enjoy widespread bipartisan support, and for good reason. It makes sense to reinvest our tax dollars in the local economy; it makes no sense to send that money overseas when American workers are ready to do the same job at a competitive price.

Sometimes there are instances when a federal agency can use a waiver to buy goods from overseas, such as when an American-made product is unavailable or if there is a significant cost difference. Unfortunately, however, federal agencies often overuse waivers, and there’s currently no centralized system to track what’s going down.

As a result, federal agencies spent $47.7 billion on foreign-made goods over the past five years, according to the Senators introducing the bill. The Defense Department alone has spent $200 billion on foreign-made products since 2007.

That’s what the Act aims to address. The legislation would create a centralized, publicly available website to track and display any requested waivers to Buy American laws. In doing so, this would allow U.S. manufacturers and others to identify available federal contract opportunities — and hold accountable those agencies and officials who are abusing the waiver system.

Democratic Sens. Chris Murphy (Conn.) and Sherrod Brown (Ohio) are sponsoring the legislation alongside Republican Sens. Rob Portman (Ohio) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.). Murphy originally suggested the idea of the website to President Trump in a letter he sent last year that outlined ways to close Buy American loopholes.

The new bill also codifies Trump’s executive order on Buy American and requires federal agencies to report on the implementation (and compliance with) Buy American preferences.

Here at the Alliance for American Manufacturing, we think the proposed website is a great idea. Buy American preferences go a long way in supporting American jobs and the local economy, and we should always look for ways to make sure that these laws are being properly implemented and not abused.