'Buy American' order puts procurement in the spotlight

Then-presidential candidate Donald Trump at a 2016 campaign event. Image: Shutterstock 

President Trump, shown here on the campaign trail, signed an executive order affecting government procurement. (Shutterstock image)

President Donald Trump's "America first" campaign agenda is being translated into federal procurement policy in an executive order that calls for agencies to "buy American" and for companies to "hire American."

Trump touted the move in an April 18 speech at the Snap-On company factory in Kenosha, Wis.

"The “Buy and Hire American” order I'm about to sign will help protect workers and students like those of you in the audience today," Trump said. "This historic action declares that the policy of our government is to aggressively promote and use American-made goods and to ensure that American labor is hired to do the job. It's America first, you better believe it."

The gist of the order is that the government plans to rigorously enforce existing provisions in law that require the federal government to use goods and workers of American manufacture where possible.

"Over the years, these 'Buy American' standards have been gutted by excessive waivers and reckless exemptions," Trump said. "The result has been countless jobs and countless contracts that have been lost to cheap, subsidized, and low-quality foreign goods."

Under the order, agencies will be required to conduct a "top-to-bottom performance review" of such waivers and exemptions, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters on the coming order.

The order calls for the secretary of Commerce and the director of the Office of Management and Budget to take the lead on issuing guidance, which is due in 60 days.

The order also calls for a review of the H1-B visa system, which allows companies to sponsor fast-tracked admission to the U.S. for skilled workers, including technology specialists and engineers. Trump and others in the administration have criticized the program for steering jobs away from qualified U.S. residents.

It's not clear why the move to enforce existing laws requires an executive order. Presidential aide Stephen Miller was asked this question by the press pool on the tarmac after the presidential event, but he declined to answer.

However, some in the contracting business are concerned that a focus on enforcing the letter of the law could have a negative effect on government technology procurement.

According to the IT Alliance for Public Sector, the executive order could increase the cost of acquisition to the tune of $2 billion annually, while depriving the government of innovative technology tools.

"Buy American sounds good and well-intentioned, but it will only help America if it is applied in a manner that reflects today’s reality, rather than cut off our nose to spite our face, ITAPS Senior Vice President for Public Sector Trey Hodgkins said. "For example, it makes no sense to reject the nearly $400 billion that foreign companies invest employing American workers in communities across our country, or to keep our government from buying the best technology to improve U.S. national security and help our citizens."

Hodgkins urged flexibility in implementing the order when it comes to technology products, "because these kinds of restrictions can do more harm than good."

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


  • Government Innovation Awards
    Government Innovation Awards -

    Congratulations to the 2021 Rising Stars

    These early-career leaders already are having an outsized impact on government IT.

  • Acquisition
    Shutterstock ID 169474442 By Maxx-Studio

    The growing importance of GWACs

    One of the government's most popular methods for buying emerging technologies and critical IT services faces significant challenges in an ever-changing marketplace

Stay Connected