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Manufacture This

The blog of the Alliance for American Manufacturing

Agency action to improve and apply Buy American will be key.

President Trump is a guy who loves catchphrases.

There’s “You’re Fired,” which he used back in the day when he hosted The Apprentice. Then there’s “Make America Great Again,” which people either love — or love to hate.

But here at the Alliance for American Manufacturing, we’ve been most interested in Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” catchphrase.

That’s because the first part of it refers to a longstanding federal policy that is incredibly important to American manufacturing workers and companies.

And for months, Trump has promised to strengthen Buy American preferences, which ensure American workers and companies get the first shot at projects funded with taxpayer dollars.

Now it appears Trump is going to actually do something to put his words into action.

The president is visiting Snap-on-Tools headquarters in Kenosha, Wis., on Tuesday afternoon. While there, he’ll sign a new “Buy American, Hire American” executive order. According to senior White House officials, there are two main parts to the order, with one part focusing on Buy American and the other part on the H1-B visa program.  

We don’t weigh in on immigration matters, so we’ll leave the discussion over the visas to others. It’s the Buy American part we’re interested in.

While the exact language in the order is still under wraps, senior administration officials did brief reporters about the order at the White House on Monday. One official said the order “ushers in a new, more muscular Buy American policy based on the twin pillars of maximizing Made in America content and minimizing waivers and exceptions to Buy American laws.”

Here’s a few of the specific takeaways:

  1. Federal agencies will review their application of Buy American laws and report to the Commerce Department recommendations to maximize the use of American-made content. Those recommendations will be shared with the president for potential action.
  2. There will be more scrutiny of Buy American waivers, including an assessment of access granted to foreign trading partners in trade agreements.
  3. The “melted and poured’ standard for steelmaking will be affirmed.
  4. Dumped or subsidized goods will be factored in for the purpose of granting waivers.

It looks like there are potentially some good things in this order. Loopholes and weak agency enforcement have made Buy American less effective, so it’s a good sign the administration is looking to strengthen it.

Maximizing the amount of American-made steel, iron and other manufactured goods purchased with tax dollars will create jobs and boost the economy. And the United States is also long overdue to examine federal procurement and trade agreements. A new Government Accountability Office report made it clear that we have been giving up more than we are getting in return.

But while this is a good first step, it is just the first step. The biggest test will come when agencies review their existing procedures and recommend action to improve and apply Buy American.