Anti-Buy America opinion makes its point by ignoring realities of Buy America rules

Posted by mmcmullan on 06/12/2014

There are a handful of bills working their way through the New Jersey legislature right now that are designed to strengthen and expand the state’s existing Buy American rules.

A recent opinion in the Newark Star-Ledger expressed grave concern that enacting them would essentially make New Jersey descend into an ungovernable Luddite state:

If this bill becomes law, first responders could be forced to use inferior equipment, basic technology might be banned from local schools, hospital patients could be deprived of the best diagnostic innovations, commuters might be left with no train car to get them to work and students with no bus to take them to school. Will lawmakers have to cope without their BlackBerries and iPhones?

Sounds pretty scary! But the opinion conveniently ignores the waiver mechanism in these bills that allows state agencies to bypass Buy America requirements if there aren’t any American-made materials available in sufficient quantity or at a reasonable cost.

Plus, the waivers include 30-day comment periods that allow domestic manufacturers a chance to put their products forward for consideration. That's important, because these rules work: The federal Department of Transportation, for instance, has some pretty exacting Buy America rules in place. And the head of its Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has noted that when you challenge U.S. businesses to source their products domestically, they find a way to do so. FTA reduced the number of its approved Buy America waivers from more than 40 in 2009 to three in 2012.

Buy America laws are a good idea, and New Jersey businesses and workers will benefit from them. The author of the opinion would be better served by focusing on a legitimate government boondoggle, like the one currently being driven over on the West Coast above California’s San Francisco Bay.

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