U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., doesn’t give up easily, particularly when it comes to changing federal rules regarding the government buying products from American companies.
Murphy has been seeking to close loopholes in “Buy American” laws since 2009, when he was U.S. representative for Connecticut’s congressional 5th District. The Cheshire resident hasn’t achieved his goal, but he’s optimistic that streak of futility may change.
Despite his disagreements with President Donald Trump on a variety of other issues, Murphy said Trump’s “America First” theme may actually work in favor of the latest version of the “Buy American” bill.
“I actually think we’re making better progress with this than we did with President Obama,” Murphy said. “This administration is more serious about ‘Buy American.’”
Murphy shared his thoughts Friday during a forum with about two-dozen leaders from manufacturing businesses that have a presence in Connecticut. The forum was held at Allnex USA and was arranged by the Quinnipiac Chamber of Commerce.
Part of Murphy’s optimism comes from Trump’s flurry of meetings in recent days with Democratic legislative leaders, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., regarding a variety of issues including immigration, border security and the federal debt ceiling.
But even if the president is willing make multiple deals with Democrats to get legislation passed, Murphy said whatever is achieved still must make it past Republican lawmakers before it can get to Trump.
“In the case of immigration, you don’t get a more hot button topic with the Republican caucus,” Murphy said. “We’ll see.”
The senator’s latest bid to beef up “Buy American” provisions for government procurement is BuyAmerican.gov Act. Current law allows federal agencies to obtain Buy American Act waivers to purchase goods or services from foreign companies in extraordinary circumstances.
One example of that loophole is when an American-made good is unavailable or will increase the cost of a product to prohibitively high levels, Murphy said. Federal agencies routinely fail to follow proper protocols, he said, and egregiously overuse this waiver without taking into consideration how it affects U.S. jobs. There currently is no government-wide system tracking federal agencies’ use of these waivers, Murphy said. The new legislation would create a centralized online hub to increase transparency and ensure federal agencies prioritize the purchase of American-made goods.
The BuyAmerican.gov Act would require the General Services Administration to establish a website, called BuyAmerican.gov, where government watchdogs and the public could view any Buy American waiver federal agencies use. The website would include contact information for the contracting agencies, which would aid manufacturers and other interested parties in identifying contract opportunities.
Some of the manufacturing executives remained cautious about the impact that Murphy’s legislation might have.
“We want to see how the whole ‘Buy American’ process plays out because its going to affect our ability to do business with government,” said Marna Wilber, director of corporate communications and public relations for Assa Abloy, the world’s largest lockmaker and the corporate parent of New Haven-based Sargent Manufacturing, which makes locks and lock components.
Over the years, Murphy has introduced two pieces of legislation that aim to strengthen existing standards and prioritize the purchase of American-made goods.
The first is the 21st Century Buy American Act. Although Murphy hasn’t reintroduced the 21st Century Buy American Act this year, its provisions include:
• Closing loopholes that allow federal agencies to waive Buy American requirements. By closing these loopholes, agencies would rarely be able to use a “public interest waiver” without considering long- and short-term effects on U.S. employment.
• Providing resources for American manufacturers of items in short supply to help them compete against foreign manufacturers for U.S. government contracts. This is important because by claiming an item is “non-available” domestically, or almost non-available, federal agencies can avoid certain “Buy American” requirements.
• Increase the domestic content percentage requirement. The 21st Century Buy American Act would increase the domestic content percentage requirement from 50 percent to 60 percent, meaning that in order to qualify as American-made, a company must produce a majority of its materials in the U.S.
The American Jobs Matter Act would require the Department of Defense, for the first time, to measure domestic employment as a factor in rewarding a contract. American manufacturing firms will be able to use their contribution to the U.S. economy as factor in winning federal contracts.