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‘Buy American’ Rules: Patriotic, but Not Pragmatic

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Requesting a waiver launches a full bureaucratic process that “just has so much paperwork and public notice tied to it, it’s really difficult to navigate it,” said David Gallacher, an associate at the law firm of Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton who helps clients sell to the federal government. “When you involve that exemption, a lot of it is simply an exercise in pushing paper around and putting it out for the world to see.”

Gallacher said the process can delay construction projects for months and add enormous cost and paperwork burdens for both the applicant and the government agency to prove that there is no American supplier so that foreign materials can be used.

“Buy America always makes good politics at least as far as the headline goes,” Gallacher said, but it is usually imposed “with complete ignorance to how this will actually be applied.”

For example, even after Buy America provisions are imposed, U.S. obligations under a host of trade treaties prohibit the government from favoring U.S. products over those from dozens of nations that are favored trading partners.

But these complications don’t keep Congress from buying American-made goods. In fact, it is already part of federal law that the Secretary of the Senate and the Chief Administrative Office of the House, the two offices that do the bulk of the purchasing for Congress, must “purchase only articles the growth and manufacture of the United States, provided the articles required can be procured of such growth and manufacture upon as good terms as to quality and price as are demanded for like articles of foreign growth and manufacture.”

So Braley’s amendment may not have been workable or germane, but it appears to be more or less the law of the land anyway.

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