THE Day (New London)
In search of legislative victories, President Trump should move beyond executive orders in pushing his “Buy American” agenda. In doing so he would find plenty of bipartisan support, including from U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, Connecticut’s junior senator.
Murphy has become a go-to Democrat when political cable news talk shows want someone to blast Trump policies. He has done so on the issues of health care, immigration, the firing of the FBI director, taxation and education, to name just a few.
Yet a July 24 press release issued by Murphy’s office contained the headline, “Murphy applauds Trump executive order.”
The order, “Assessing and strengthening the manufacturing and defense industrial base and supply chain resiliency of the United States,” calls for a comprehensive study into the ability of the nation’s manufacturing supply chain to support military weapons production.
Referencing the “loss of more than 60,000 American factories, key companies, and almost 5 million manufacturing jobs since 2000,” the study will also examine “the ability of the United States to surge in response to an emergency.”
Recall that it was the quick conversion of America’s strong industrial base to a war-time footing that gave it a competitive edge in World War II.
Murphy, meanwhile, has promoted legislation to assure that, whenever possible, federal agencies and defense contractors buy from American companies.
His “American Jobs Matter Act” would require the Department of Defense to take into account U.S. jobs when awarding government contracts to manufacturers. Under such a law DOD, in awarding contracts, would have to consider the number of jobs a manufacturing firm expects to create or retain in the United States. The Pentagon would weigh domestic job creation along with price and performance in awarding contracts.
Murphy has pointed to the case of Ansonia Copper & Brass, a brass manufacturer that served the U.S. Navy and employed up to 10,000 people. But the company closed in 2013, in part because it lost its Navy business to overseas companies that could provide materials at a lower cost.
The senator also notes that since 2007 the Pentagon has spent more than $200 billion on foreign-manufactured goods, a period during which the U.S. lost more than 1.7 million manufacturing jobs.
The “American Jobs” legislation, which includes as co-sponsors Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, all Democrats, has languished, in part because it challenges business as usual, in larger part because it is an idea from Democrats in a Republican-dominated Washington.
Trump should embrace such proposals, disregarding the politics of the matter. That is, after all, what he promised to do in campaigning to become the non-politician president whose focus would be on providing good American jobs, in particular by rebuilding its industrial base.
The executive-ordered study, expected to take nine months, is supposed to take a comprehensive look at the defense supply chain. The DOD will lead the review, but with interagency input from Commerce, Labor, Energy and the Homeland Security Departments. The study will also examine the manufacturing workforce and determine the training that may be necessary to supply the skilled craftspeople necessary to build air, sea and ground military weapons.
In the meantime, the Trump administration needs to set about making sure bureaucrats follow existing “buy American” laws. A recent report from the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Defense found that contracting personnel at the DOD frequently failed to comply with the Berry Amendment. The amendment dictates that the purchases of certain basic products (food, fabrics, hand tools, etc.) must come from U.S. companies.
However, in a random sample review of 32 contracts, the Inspector General found 19 failed to comply with the Berry Amendment, with a $453 million loss of U.S. business. The report pointed to poor internal procedures, including a lack of familiarity with the statutory requirements.
If Trump can bring Washington together on one thing, it would be this; assuring that money spent in defense of this nation generates American jobs and that U.S. citizens have the education and training to fill them.