“Buy American” is now a law: is it a good thing?

For Jamie Gregg, president, CEO and owner of Colonial Bronze Co., a Torrington manufacturer of doorknobs, knobs and other products, the road to federal law expanding the Buy American rules began a year ago. is ten years old with an unusual phone call.

A staff member of then-US Representative Chris Murphy asked, “Do you make towel racks? He recalls in a recent interview.

“This is a strange question coming from a congressman’s office,” he said.

Gregg, the third-generation owner of the 94-year-old family business, said he told Murphy’s office that Colonial Bronze makes towel bars.

Murphy, who has since been elected and re-elected to the United States Senate, wondered why the Pentagon would seek waivers to avoid purchasing American-made towel racks for Air Force barracks in Alaska, Gregg said. His office looked for a Connecticut company that filled out the invoice.

In November, President Joe Biden enacted a massive infrastructure measure that includes legislation strengthening the Buy American provisions. He was championed by Murphy, a Democrat, and was supported by others who represent states with manufacturing sectors: Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio; Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina; and Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan.

The law will establish an online hub to increase transparency and ensure that federal agencies prioritize the purchase of products made in the United States in accordance with laws already in place. The legislation will also give manufacturers the ability to challenge pending waivers requested by federal agencies.

It also codifies an executive order from then-President Donald Trump in 2017 requiring agencies to report on compliance with Buy American laws and how they are being implemented.

Using the $ 1.2 trillion infrastructure legislation to incorporate Buy American legislation made sense because the manufacturing base is part of American industry, Murphy said. “We took advantage of an opportunity,” he said.

In a video produced by his office, Murphy said that the loss of government work by domestic manufacturers to foreign competitors with the use of US taxpayer money “seemed crazy to me.”

Connecticut’s manufacturing sector, prized for its skilled, well-paying jobs, employs more than 155,000 workers, nearly 10% of the workforce, and accounts for roughly the same share of the nearly $ 300 billion economy. of State. Murphy has made the promotion of manufacturing a visible part of his legislative career, going so far as to seek common ground with Trump for whom he has said, with some understatement, that he does not have “much knowledge. ‘love”.

He said he got the idea for the Buy American Act while visiting Colonial Bronze. Gregg appeared on the senator’s video to approve the new law, saying it was “designed to level the playing field” between US and foreign companies.

Critics of the Buy American legislation say the federal government should engage with as many producers as possible to keep costs down. Daniel Drezner, professor of international politics at the Fletcher School at Tufts University, said if legislation was just a clearinghouse, “I will breathe a sigh of relief.”

“Buying American makes things more expensive,” he said. “You tell the government that you can’t buy from the lowest bidder. You have to discriminate in favor of American producers.

Allison Schrager, a senior researcher at the Manhattan Institute, said U.S. purchasing policies subsidize uncompetitive business practices.

“It’s better to be competitive in global markets and make adjustments where you can,” she said.

Drezner said the policy of closed factories unable to compete globally is “sometimes brutal” and he recognized the need to buy nationally to protect national security. Yet the Buy American rules are an “inefficient use of taxpayer dollars,” he said.

And if politicians detail the real cost of protecting domestic manufacturing, Buy American could lose public support, he said. An admission that taxes will increase to support the purchase of more expensive goods to maintain jobs could cause Americans to “react differently,” Drezner said.

Murphy said the law empowers the private sector.

“All we do is provide the information in an easy to find way and let the manufacturers take advantage of this website,” he said.

However, Buy American could become more expensive. Murphy said one idea he was considering was to increase the minimum percentage of US content from 50% to 60% “to get rid of some of the waivers that are often abused.”

Supply shortages in the first few months of the pandemic “led to a wake-up call in Congress,” bolstering bipartisan support for stricter US purchasing rules, he said.

Drezner blamed the shortages on U.S. policies allowing supplies of personal protective equipment to wither away and said the government needed to stock up.

Meanwhile, Gregg said the Buy American website would be helpful. Customer service representatives will scan it to determine if federal agencies are requesting waivers and take opportunities to make presentations for products purchased.

“It at least gives us the opportunity to articulate and defend our position why you should buy this,” he said.

Colonial Bronze, which employs 43 workers, has persevered in manufacturing custom specialty products sold to designers and interior designers. It has been in business long after it abandoned its competitors as the low-cost commercial structure of big box stores doing business with China took hold, Gregg said.

“I couldn’t bring myself to do it, so I stuck it out,” he said.

As for the Air Force Alaskan barracks towel racks, Gregg said he never had a chance to sell them to the Pentagon.

“This ship has sailed before,” he said.

U.S. Senator Christopher Murphy, D-Connecticut, interviews Zalmay Khalilzad, Special Envoy for Reconciliation in Afghanistan, at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill, April 27, 2021, in Washington, DC (Susan Walsh / Pool / Getty Images / TNS)

Critics say US should buy from multiple sources to cut costs

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