Tammy Baldwin Tells the Federal Highway Administration to End its Buy America Waiver

By Matthew McMullan
Jun 02 2023 |
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The Build America, Buy America law had ending this waiver in mind when it was written, argues the senator from Wisconsin.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) is calling on the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to end its 40-year-old waiver on Buy America rules for highway construction projects.  

“I write to strongly urge the discontinuation of the Manufactured Products General Waiver of Buy America that (FHWA) has had in place since 1983,” the senator wrote to Administrator Shailen Bhatt on Tuesday. “Frustration with the 40-year waiver was a key driving force behind the passage of enhanced Buy America provisions in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which explicitly requires review of existing, ‘deficient’ blanket waivers like this one.”

Baldwin would know the details of those enhanced provisions and what they were targeted to do. She’s the author of the Made In America Act, portions of which were included in the new domestic procurement legislation that became law as part of the IIJA: The Build America, Buy America Act (BABA). And BABA is indeed very clear that existing general waivers to Buy America rules must be reviewed.

The highway administration has finally gotten that review underway, and nearly 9,000 people joined the Alliance for American Manufacturing last week in calling for its general waiver for manufactured products be discontinued. Like Baldwin did this week, we also noted Congressional intent.

“With the enactment of BABA as part of the (Bipartisan Infrastructure Law),” we wrote in our own letter, “it is inappropriate and unreasonable for FHWA to continue applying this general waiver.”

Like the other lawmakers that want FHWA to put a fork in its waiver, Baldwin has long been an advocate for domestic manufacturers, and even pressed Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on ending it during his 2021 confirmation hearing. She pressed Buttigieg again on the subject during his appearance before the Senate Commerce Committee in 2022, after the IIJA had been enacted, and the secretary responded that the Department of Transportation is “committed to delivering on the intent of the Buy America provisions in the law.”

With a review now underway of the FHWA waiver that BABA requires, the senator hasn’t forgotten their exchanges.

In this week’s letter she writes:

FHWA’s request for comment notes that it will publish a determination on “whether to continue, discontinue, or otherwise modify” the waiver. Given that continuing the waiver as-is appears to still be on the table, I would remind you that On January 21, 2021, at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, Secretary Pete Buttigieg committed to me that he would “adjust, change, or perhaps rescind” the blanket waiver that has made foreign manufactured products eligible for FHWA projects.

We will be watching closely for the results of the FHWA’s waiver review. You can read Baldwin’s letter here.