‘Buy American’ order could boost state manufacturing

The Day

A new executive order from President Donald Trump, which seeks to make good on his pledge to "buy American and hire American," could mean thousands of manufacturing jobs for Connecticut, according to U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.

Trump signed the executive order Tuesday during a visit to the world headquarters of Snap-On Inc., a tool manufacturer in Kenosha, Wis.

"With this action, we are sending a powerful signal to the world: we're going to defend our workers, protect our jobs, and finally put America first," Trump said.

The executive action could impact manufacturing jobs well beyond Wisconsin, including across the country in Connecticut, where companies have lost out on bids due to foreign competition, according to Murphy. He frequently cites as an example Waterbury-based Ansonia Specialty Metals, which makes copper-nickel tubing used on military ships and submarines.

Ansonia's President John Barto told the Hartford Courant in 2013 that his company had been undercut by foreign competition, specifically naming Nacobre Industries, a large corporation in Mexico City. He said he believed that if he went out of business, the corporation would raise its prices.

"Contracting agents now know that the president takes this issue seriously and they will probably start applying Buy American laws more rigorously, and that could mean thousands and thousands of jobs in Connecticut," Murphy said.

Murphy, who wrote to Trump at the beginning of his presidency outlining ways he could strengthen Buy American laws, said some of his proposals made it into Trump's executive order. He hopes this is just a first step, and said he'd love an opportunity to sit down with the president directly on this issue.

The "Buy American" aspect of Trump's order directs a government-wide review of federal procurement practices and seeks to limit the use of waivers and exceptions.

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross is tasked with reviewing all the agency findings and submitting a report to Trump within 220 days.

The Buy American Act, which has seldom been amended since it was enacted in 1933, requires the government to give preference to American suppliers for bulk purchases of more than $3,000. Similar laws are in place in various states. There are numerous exceptions and waivers permissible, though, under both the state and federal laws.

"We know that there's widespread noncompliance especially within the Department of Defense," said Murphy, "The government-wide review that he's ordered, I think, will scare some of the contracting agencies straight."

The defense department has used hundreds of thousands of waivers to spend almost $200 million on foreign-made goods in the last decade, according to Murphy. 

He said the majority of Buy American waivers are used to buy products that are going to be used outside of the U.S. When conceived, the loophole was intended to be limited to items that couldn't be easily procured in the U.S., Murphy said.

"With thousands of U.S. troops deployed to Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, that waiver continues to be an enormous loophole for the Department of Defense," he said.