Rep. Lipinski and Sen. Murphy Lead Effort to Strengthen Buy America Provisions in Surface Transportation Bill to Create More American Jobs (November 18, 2015)
Congressman Dan Lipinski from Illinois and Senator Chris Murphy from Connecticut are fighting to protect and bolster Buy America provisions in the critical surface transportation reauthorization bill. As the most senior member from Illinois on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Lipinski helped pass a bipartisan six-year transportation bill in the House earlier this month. Following its passage, he was chosen to serve on the conference committee that will work out the differences between the House and Senate versions of this important legislation.
In a letter to the House and Senate conferees, Lipinski and Murphy urge members to preserve certain aspects of both bills that strengthen Buy America provisions and boost American manufacturing, and to reject parts of the Senate bill that would weaken the Buy America requirements of the bill. With an opportunity to pass the first truly long-term surface transportation reauthorization since 2005, it is imperative that this law does everything possible to improve American infrastructure and create jobs for people around the country.
“We support provisions in both bills that increase the domestic content of rolling stock procured with Federal Transit Administration funds from 60% to 70%,” said Lipinski and Murphy in the letter. “This modest increase is phased in incrementally over the next five years and will ensure that equipment used and paid for by taxpayers is manufactured with a higher percentage of American-made materials. These provisions should be maintained in the final conference report, along with part of the House-passed bill which makes Buy America compliance an eligible activity for technical assistance and will help the transit community comply with these important requirements.”
Lipinski and Murphy are also encouraging committee members to maintain provisions found in the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2015 (PRRIA) as they reconcile differences between that legislation and the rail title included in the Senate bill. Part of PRRIA codifies Buy America requirements for Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing (RRIF) loans, a program that has the capacity to provide $35 billion in direct loans and loan guarantees for rail infrastructure improvements. As the House and Senate work to modernize this program in a manner that allows more applicants to utilize and spend down its balance, it is necessary that this program abides by domestic content standards that are applicable to other transportation investment programs.
While the House and Senate bills contain the positive aforementioned provisions, there are two troubling provisions that Lipinski and Murphy are urging the committee to reject. First, part of the Senate bill increases Amtrak’s procurement threshold for Buy America applicability from $1 million to $5 million. Had this increased threshold been in place for this fiscal year, at least 85% of Amtrak’s anticipated capital projects would have been exempt from Buy America requirements. Additionally, this increase opens the possibility of procurements being segmented into smaller contracts to avoid meeting the new threshold, thus creating even more Buy America exemptions.
Second, another aspect of the Senate bill changes how waiver requests for transit procurements are handled. Specifically, a provision in this section would shift responsibilities and burdens of proof in the waiver process in a manner that would make granting Buy America waivers easier. This would undermine successful past efforts to strengthen the waiver process to make it more accountable and effective and it should not be included.
“It is essential that this surface transportation reauthorization bill improve our nation’s infrastructure and create jobs for our workforce,” stated Lipinski and Murphy to the conference committee members. “A strong Buy America component is crucial to this effort and we strongly encourage you to hold firm in strengthening our Buy America laws.”