For the first time, the public will have an in-depth look at Buy America waivers, adding much needed transparency to the process.
The Made in America Office at the Office of Management and Budget on Wednesday unveiled a new section of its website that, for the first time ever, will allow the public to view non-availability waivers for Buy America preferences.
The website design is fairly simple, and that’s the point. It provides the public with straightforward information about these waivers, which also will give American manufacturers and workers more insight about taxpayer-funded procurement opportunities.
Historically, Buy America waivers have been handed out with little-to-no transparency. In practice, that meant American companies who could do some of this work didn’t even know about these opportunities at all, sending taxpayer money overseas when it could have been reinvested into American workers.
The Made in America Office is now aiming to making the waiver process far more transparent and allow American manufacturers and workers to compete for more federal contracts.
Made in America Director Celeste Drake wrote on the White House website:
“This is an important update for American businesses too, and a change we hope will reduce the need for waivers altogether. By seeing the types of mission-critical products Federal agencies are having trouble sourcing domestically, American farmers, manufacturers, ranchers, and other firms can find potential new business opportunities with the government and work to fill those opportunities with Made in America products. These kinds of connections are vital, both for agencies looking to see if previously unknown domestic products can meet their needs and for American manufacturers looking to do business with the Federal Government.”
The Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) supports this new effort. AAM President Scott Paul said in a statement:
“The new guidance on Buy America waivers issued today by the Made in America Office is a welcome one.
“For far too long, and in far too many cases, Buy America waivers have been handed out with little transparency, accountability, or oversight, leaving American manufacturers and workers in the dark about these opportunities while U.S. tax dollars rewarded offshoring and circumvention of the U.S. labor force.
“We applaud the Biden administration for prioritizing the reinvestment of federal taxpayer dollars back into American workers and companies. With the creation of a central Buy America waiver review process, U.S. companies and American workers will have a stronger voice and be better positioned to fulfill government procurement contracts and supply the inputs for federally assisted infrastructure spending.
“The recent enactment of the infrastructure bill gives the Biden administration powerful new tools to ensure that American workers have the first chance to supply the iron, steel, manufactured products, and construction materials to rebuild our nation. We look forward to working with the Made in America Office and the Biden administration on its implementation.”
As readers of this blog know, Buy America rules require that federal purchases funded by taxpayers go toward goods Made in America. For example, that means that steel used on projects funded by the infrastructure investment package signed into law by President Biden on Monday must be Made in America.
But there’s always been a catch. Government agencies can request a waiver when there aren’t domestic suppliers available or cannot be found at a reasonable cost. And agencies often abuse these waivers; one study found that 13 government agencies used loopholes to spend more than $92 billion on foreign contracts between 2008 and 2016, for example.
By reducing the amount of Buy America waivers issued, the government has an opportunity to reinvest that money back into the U.S. economy and its workers. In doing so, it will strengthen American manufacturing as a whole.
“With more than $600 billion in annual procurement spending and as the single largest purchaser of consumer goods in the world, the Federal Government has the purchasing power to shape markets and accelerate innovation,” Drake wrote.
The bold step announced by the Made in America Office on Wednesday is a big opportunity, and could very well ensure that more of our tax dollars will be spent on American business and workers, not sent overseas. Despite its simplicity, this new web portal could go a very long way in creating new opportunities for American makers and strengthening manufacturing overall.