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Biden urges federal government to buy more American-made goods

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USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden took steps Monday to encourage the federal government to buy more American-made products, a move the new administration argues will protect U.S. jobs and juice an economy severely hobbled by the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

Biden, who pushed a $700 billion Buy American campaign as a candidate for president, signed an executive order at the White House and delivered remarks on an initiative he said will advance several policies to boost the federal government’s purchase of U.S.-manufactured goods and services.

“The key plank of ensuring the future will be ‘Made In America,’ ” Biden said of his plan to boost American manufacturing. “That means we’re going to use taxpayers’ money to rebuild America, we’ll buy American products and support American jobs.”

Federal law requires government agencies to give preference to American firms when possible, but critics say those requirements haven’t always been implemented consistently or effectively. Some have not been substantially updated since the 1950s.

The federal government spends nearly $600 billion a year on contracts, which is money the administration says can spur a revitalization of the nation’s industrial strength and create new markets for new technologies.

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To that end, Biden’s order increases the domestic content threshold, which is the amount of a product that must be made in the U.S. before it can be purchased by the federal government.

Right now, loopholes in federal law allow products to be stamped “Made in America” for purposes of federal procurement even if barely 51% of the materials used to produce them are domestically made. Administration officials did not say how much Biden intends to increase that threshold.

In addition, the order will close loopholes that critics say federal agencies often use to get around requirements that they buy American products.

The order calls for a central review of requests for waivers to Buy American rules and the creation of a website that will be available to the public. U.S. manufacturers will be able to see those waivers and determine whether they are in a position to provide the requested goods. That will help more American companies compete for and win federal contracts and ensure communities who have been historically left out of federal procurement contracts are able to compete, according to Biden. 

“When we buy American, we will buy from all of America,” Biden said. “This is a critical piece of building our economy back better and including everyone in the deal this time, especially small businesses that are badly hurting in this economy.”

The order also will create a senior director’s position in the Office of Management and Budget whose focus will be on the Made In America campaign and making sure the new rules and procedures are followed.

Federal agencies will be directed to use the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, a public-private network that supports small and midsize businesses in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, to help agencies connect with new domestic suppliers who can make the products they need while employing U.S. workers.

The “Buy American” program raised alarm among at least one country looking to restore trade relations. Canadian Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters Monday she is concerned about the neighboring country losing out if government procurement rules are tightened.  

“I am concerned. We are always concerned by ‘Buy American’ … for sure that is going to be an issue very, very high on our agenda in our work with the Biden administration,” Freeland told reporters, according to Reuters

“We find we are very often able to explain to our American partners that trade is in the mutual interests of Canadians and of Americans,” she added.

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Shortly after taking office in 2017, President Donald Trump issued a series of executive orders that were intended to strengthen rules requiring federal agencies to buy U.S.-made goods when possible. But critics argued that effort fell short, partly because of Trump’s failure to adequately enforce the rules.

The order that Biden will sign is expected to include a clear timeline for updating domestic content requirements and a process for reducing unnecessary waivers, which the administration argues would fundamentally change how the program operates.

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Agencies will be required to report twice a year on their implementation of Made in America laws.

Since taking office last Wednesday, Biden has signed more than two dozen executive orders spanning a variety of subjects, including COVID-19 and food assistance for low-income families.

Michael Collins covers the White House. Reach him on Twitter @mcollinsNEWS.

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