New Bipartisan Legislation Aims to Strengthen Buy American Laws

By Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch
Feb 23 2021 |
The 1933 Buy American Act requires federal agencies to give preferential treatment to American companies and workers when buying products, but loopholes and waivers have led to billions of dollars being sent overseas. Getty Images

The Make It in America Act seeks to close loopholes that allow federal agencies to use waivers to get around Buy American preferences.

A bipartisan group of Senators introduced a bill on Tuesday designed to ensure that when the government spends taxpayer money, it is reinvested into American workers, companies and communities instead of being sent overseas.

The Make It in America Act would require the federal government to give preference to American products when making government purchases. While the 1933 Buy American Act requires federal agencies to give such preferential treatment to American manufacturers and workers, agencies often use loopholes and waivers to buy imported goods – and sometimes they just outright violate the law.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), the lead sponsor of the legislation, found in a 2018 report that federal agencies spent $92 billion on foreign-made products between 2008 and 2016 via waivers and exemptions. The Made in America Act is designed to make it harder for agencies to do that, closing loopholes and increasing transparency by making waivers public.

“America’s workers and manufacturers are the best in the world. This bill would make sure they are first in line when it comes to government contracts and spending,” Stabenow said. “It’s common sense that American tax dollars should be used to create American jobs by purchasing American products.”

Other sponsors of the legislation include Sens. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), and Rob Portman (R-Ohio).

“We must do everything we can to protect and maximize American jobs, and that starts by ensuring that our tax dollars aren’t used to create jobs overseas,” Portman said. “By improving transparency, the Make It in America Act will encourage federal agencies to support American workers and American jobs by faithfully complying with Buy American law. This is a bipartisan bill that is needed now to help protect American jobs.”

The Senators aren’t the only leaders in Washington talking about Buy American these days, of course.

President Joe Biden also has said strengthening Buy American will be a priority for his administration, and he got the effort started by signing an executive order during his first week in office to review Buy American, including by scrutinizing the waiver qualifications for existing federal laws.

Biden’s order also creates a central office in the Office of Management and Budget dedicated to enforcing Buy American laws. The Senators put forth a similar idea in their bill.

Under the Make It in America Act, a new “Made in America Office” within OMB would be required to review Buy American waivers and ensure compliance with other Buy American laws.

In addition, the legislation would stop the use of the “public interest” waiver for Buy American if a foreign contract would decrease American employment and require that agencies publicly post each waiver to the Buy American Act online, with a justification for why they are seeking it.

The bill also would increase American-made content in a product from 50% to 75%, a move that’s designed to support Made in America throughout the supply chain. And the legislation would give small-and-medium-sized manufacturers the first shot at providing products for federally funded transportation projects.

“Ensuring that the federal government is spending taxpayer dollars on products made by American workers will create jobs and level the playing field for our small businesses and manufacturers,” Peters said. 

Braun echoed those remarks.

 “Ensuring that taxpayer dollars are used to support American jobs is the kind of commonsense, main-street policy Hoosiers sent me here to support. Unfortunately, America’s Buy America laws have too many loopholes, sending our resources to foreign workers,” he said. “This bill closes those loopholes and helps ensure that America’s workers, small businesses, and families are the direct beneficiaries of federal purchasing.”

Baldwin, a longtime proponent of Buy American, said she strongly believes “when taxpayer dollars are spent by our government, we should be investing in American workers and American-made products.”

“The Make it America Act has earned bipartisan support because it supports our manufacturers and workers by making sure we buy what American makes,” she said.