ITAA attacks 'Buy American' provision

IT industry representatives are urging the Senate to reject a "Buy American" provision approved by the House requiring the Homeland Security Department to use primarily U.S.-made components in all products it buys.

The provision was approved by the House May 18 as an amendment to legislation authorizing $34.2 billion for the homeland security department in fiscal 2006 [see related story]. It requires that more than 50 percent of the components in any end product purchased by the federal department must be made in the United States.

But the Information Technology Industry Association, which represents more than 350 IT companies in the U.S., opposes the measure.

"I guess DHS will have to learn to do without computers and cell phones," said ITAA President Harris N. Miller. "I cannot think of a single U.S. manufacturer that could meet this 50 percent threshold for these devices, and I doubt that those charged with protecting our safety here at home can either.

"This legislation puts politics in front of common sense in combating terrorist threats. At the same time, it sends a signal to our trading partners that protectionism trumps global trade. That's a lose-lose proposition for the nation," Miller said.

The provision was authored by Rep. Don Manzullo (R-Ill.), chairman of the House Small Business Committee, to reaffirm the Buy American Act of 1933. The law was passed by Congress during the Great Depression to help restore the U.S. industrial base.

But the 72-year-old law has been undermined by exemptions claimed by the Pentagon and DHS to permit substitution of foreign components when justified by the public good, Manzullo said in a press release. The amendment would force DHS to comply with the law, he said.

"When U.S. taxpayers' dollars are spent, we must make sure the federal government is buying as much of their goods and services as possible from U.S. manufacturers," Manzullo said. "This legislation preserves the intent of the Buy American Act while helping to restore the U.S. industrial base and creating jobs for Americans."

Miller and the ITAA, however, contend the measure is bad policy because it would raise costs of production, invite foreign retribution and deny DHS access to most advanced technology.

"Such restrictions raise the cost of doing business at the very time that the federal government is running record deficits and state governments are struggling to control spending and balance budgets," Miller said.

The ITAA is asking Senate lawmakers to strip the provision from the authorization bill. However, Senate leaders have not indicated whether they will consider the DHS authorization this year.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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