'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, health IT and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mr. Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian started his career as an arts reporter and critic, and has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, Architect magazine, and other publications. He was an editorial assistant and staff writer at the now-defunct New York Press and arts editor at the online network in the 1990s, and was a weekly contributor of music and film reviews to the Washington Times from 2007 to 2014.

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

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Reader comments

Fri, Jun 2, 2017

If Hodgkins is going to claim that innovators are going to be squeezed out or that violating existing "Buy American" laws is going to cost additional money, please cite the specific instances where foreign innovation has been purchased and applied or where the foreign solution was cheaper (and by how much). While he's at it, let's also look at the economic cost of sending taxpayer funds out of country -- my personal cost-benefit analysis for buying foreign-made goods or foreign services is quite different from an economic analysis on use of taxpayer funds or source/supply-risk to government projects.

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