Lipinski Op-Ed: "Buy American" Bill Needed to Boost Jobs, Stop Tax Dollars Exiting Country

By Congressman Dan Lipinski

When President Trump mentioned his plan for a transportation infrastructure program in his speech to a joint session of Congress, he said, “we will follow two simple rules: Buy American and Hire American.”  But these simple rules are often violated not only on transportation projects but with other federal spending, and that will continue unless and until we change our laws.  That’s because our current Buy American laws are full of too many loopholes, and too much federal spending is not covered by these laws.  That is why I have introduced the comprehensive, bipartisan Buy American Improvement Act, H.R. 904, to ensure that in the future the federal government really does “buy American and hire American” when spending taxpayer dollars, thereby helping create good-paying middle-class jobs.

The original Buy American Act that required the federal government to give preference to American products when making purchases became law in 1933.  Buy America was introduced in the Surface Transportation Assistance Act in 1983 to place domestic content requirements on projects funded by the federal government but administered by states and local governments.  But these laws don’t always work, so my bill does three things: (1) extends domestic content requirements to federal programs that currently are not covered, (2) closes loopholes that make it too easy for federal agencies to get waivers and avoid these requirement, and (3) makes Buy American waiver requests transparent so American companies know where they can sell to the federal government. 

Among the loopholes that would be closed by this bill include breaking up a large project into smaller segments in order to avoid Buy American requirements.  This is what happened when the state of California took federal money for the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge rebuild project, applied the federal money to one segment of the project, and then bought pre-made pieces of the bridge for the non-federal portion from China.  This practice would be stopped by this bill.  In addition, Buy American requirements currently do not apply to some purchases made to be used overseas.  This waiver would no longer be automatic. 

Some of the programs that Buy America requirements would be extended to under this bill include the Federal Highway Administration’s Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement program, the Rural Water Supply program, Community Development Block Grants, grants under the Economic Development Administration, and the spending of Passenger Facility Charges by airports.  Also included are projects funded by the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, which was a contentious issue in the debate about funding for Flint, Michigan, drinking water last year. 

Finally, the transparency requirements help ensure that if there are companies that can put Americans to work making products that federal money was going to be spent on to import, they will be able to easily find the opportunities.  For example, the bill would require a Federal Register notice and 15 day comment period for any waiver request from Buy America requirements, better enabling American companies to identify business opportunities.  This would have prevented an incident in 2013 when an American manufacturer that produces converted paratransit buses belatedly found out that the Federal Transit Administration had granted a waiver so that these buses could be purchased from a foreign supplier. 

While so many Americans are still struggling to find good jobs and our manufacturing sector continues to need a boost, it is only common sense to ensure that taxpayer dollars put Americans to work rather than those outside our borders.  The Buy American Improvement Act will do just that.  

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