On Doing Better Than 50%, Or, Could More “Made In USA” Mean More Jobs?
We gotta grow some jobs, and that’s a fact, and we probably aren’t going to be able to do it with big ol’ jobs programs funded by the Federal Government, what with today’s politics and all, and that means if this Administration wants to stay in the jobs game they’re going to have to find some smaller and more creative ways to do it.
They are also going to have to come up with ideas that are pretty much “bulletproof”, meaning that they are so hard to object to that even Allen West and Louie Gohmert will not want to be on record saying “no no no!”; alternatively, solutions that work around the legislative process entirely could represent the other form of “bulletproof-ery”.
Well, I have one of those “maybe bulletproof” ideas for you today, and it has to do with how “Made in USA” the things are that our Government buys.
The archer sees the mark along the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows might go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so he loves also the bow that is stable.
--From “The Prophet”, by Kahlil Gibran
For the rest of the story to make sense, we’ll have to define a term; specifically, “Made in USA”.
Most manufacturers in the US have to meet a very stringent standard before they can refer to a product as “Made in USA”; here’s how the standard is described by the Federal Trade Commission:
Traditionally, the Commission has required that a product advertised as Made in USA be "all or virtually all" made in the U.S.
There are special rules, most notably for automobiles (also textiles, wool, and fur), but for the most part everyone else goes by the “all or virtually all” standard when they claim something is “Made in USA”.
With one giant exception.
When the Federal Government “Buys American”, anything with over 50% US content is considered “Made in USA”; this according to the provisions of, naturally enough, the Buy American Act, 41 USC 10a – c. (Beyond the law, there are also certain Federal Regulations and Executive Orders involved; for now we’ll just call it all “the law” and let it go at that.)
Now there doesn’t seem to be anything immediately evident in the law that would prevent the Federal Government from purchasing more than 50% US content if we wanted to, and the Big Idea here today is that if government at all levels began to purchase more than 50% US content, we could create more US jobs, now and in the future, and we could do it with a minimum of muss and fuss.
Obviously, there are practical limits as to how far you could take such an approach (for example, good luck buying a Made in USA laptop), and the current law has exceptions that reflect that reality.
But consider this: there are about 450.000 vehicles in the Federal inventory (that does not include military combat vehicles), with roughly half of those belonging to the Postal Service; the General Services Administration buys about 65.000 vehicles a year (they run the Federal motor pool, and that’s the other half of the inventory).
Beyond that, think of all the billions upon billions of dollars of more mundane things the government buys every year: janitorial supplies, paper and toner, desks and chairs…well, you get the idea; now imagine if more of all of that was made right here.
One example of how we can do better can be found in Celina, Tennessee, where a garment factory that was doing work for the Air Force found itself unable to compete for a subcontract on $100 million worth of uniforms being made for the TSA; that’s because the uniforms were being made in Mexico instead.
If the work was being done here, it could mean about 300 jobs in a town that could really use ‘em. (By law, military uniforms are supposed to be made in USA; that’s an imperfect process.)
Some things already are restricted: if we don’t have a reciprocal trade agreement with a country, they generally can’t sell to the US government; China and Taiwan fall into that group.
I’m often guilty of running stories too long, so we’re going to cut this short today with a summary…followed by a cliffhanger that should keep you looking forward to Part Two:
Government buys a whole lot of stuff, and we could be buying more of it in the USA, and if we did, it could translate into jobs in places like Celina, Tennessee.
But it’s not as simple a picture as you might think, and when we get together next time, we’ll talk about the impact of free trade agreements on “Made in USA” purchasing, we’ll get the AFL-CIO’s reaction to all of this, and, if all goes well, we’ll see if we can provide official reaction from the Obama Administration.
And even though you’ll be sitting in your seat…you’re only gonna need the edge…
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