Lipinski Questions Census Chief on Purchase of Foreign Goods, Secures Pledge of Full Disclosure, Vows to Continue Fight to Require Government to Buy American Goods

At a meeting with Census Bureau Director Dr. Robert Groves and other top agency officials, Congressman Dan Lipinski (IL-3) secured a pledge from the Bureau to fully explain its purchase of imports from Chinaand other countries, and provide answers to a host of questions regarding its purchasing methods. Congressman Lipinski has led the effort to hold the Census Bureau accountable for spending millions of taxpayer dollars on t-shirts, baseball caps, and other promotional items made overseas. He was joined at the meeting by Representatives Christopher S. Murphy (CT), Betty Sutton (OH), Carol Shea-Porter (NH), and Mark Critz (PA). 

“More than two months after I first demanded information from the Census and a month after I led a bipartisan group of 20 members in calling for answers, the Bureau has finally come to the table to try to provide some rationale for purchasing goods from Chinaand elsewhere,” Congressman Lipinski said. “Unfortunately, during our meeting their legal team rolled out a set of explanations that was different from prior explanations, including pointing the finger at the General Services Administration. The worst part is that members of Congress – who have the responsibility of conducting oversight – have no way of validating these claims. Instead of exploiting loopholes, making excuses, and passing the buck, the Census Bureau – and the rest of government – should be helping to create and sustain American jobs; we owe that to American workers. I’m going to hold the agency to its promise to finally provide the information and answers we have been asking for. If they continue to drag their feet, I’ll have no choice but to seek a GAO investigation and hearings to get the answers American taxpayers deserve.”

“This meeting once again demonstrated why we must pass legislation such as my Buy American Improvement Act and get rid of the overwhelming number of loopholes that exist so that longstanding Buy American laws truly protect American workers. It also brought home the fact that we need to change the culture in our government so that federal employees start asking how they can follow Buy American laws instead of how they can ignore them. Over the past three years, 2.1 million manufacturing jobs have disappeared, yet somehow federal agencies continue to overlook American suppliers. This is offensive to the millions of Americans who are out of work. There are manufacturers right here in Chicago that could have supplied these hats and t-shirts at competitive prices, but they were never even contacted.”

As part of its “March to the Mailbox” campaign, the Census Bureau spent millions of taxpayer dollars on imported t-shirts, shirts, and baseball caps manufactured in China, Bangladesh, and elsewhere. It also spent an unknown sum on foreign-made toys, key chains, and other promotional items. In the case of the apparel, while the Census Bureau’s logo was stitched or printed onto the garments in the United States, the garments themselves were manufactured abroad. It remains unclear exactly what portion of the $42 million the Census Bureau spent on promotional items went to foreign manufacturers. On April 14, Congressman Lipinski sent a letter to the Census Bureau demanding an explanation of its purchases. On May 20, the Congressman led 19 other members of the House in sending a follow-up letter demanding answers to specific questions about the purchase of foreign goods by the Census Bureau and its general procurement practices. 

While the Bureau continues to insist its purchases complied with the Buy American Act, there is ample reason to doubt that is the case. For instance, the agency’s purchases of Chinese-made apparel likely would only be permissible if the domestic manufacturers’ stitching or printing were responsible for more than 50 percent of the final value of the goods. But that work probably accounts for a much smaller percentage of the value.

“I’m going to keep pressing federal departments and agencies to follow the ‘Buy American’ law,” Congressman Lipinski said. “While we have no reason to suspect that the Census Bureau purposely did not comply with Buy American laws, we simply cannot allow the federal government to get away with needlessly sending taxpayer dollars to China when that money could be creating jobs here at home.”

Congressman Lipinski recently introduced the Buy American Improvement Act, H.R. 4351, to eliminate loopholes in existing Buy American laws. Among other things, the bill would ban the practice of segmenting purchases so as to avoid reaching the minimum dollar amounts at which the Buy American Act applies. This appears to have happened with many of the Census Bureau’s purchases. The bill has been endorsed by the Populist Caucus and introduced in the Senate by Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.


(June 28, 2010)



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