‘Buy Amer­i­can’ ex­ec­u­tive or­der on right track

Hawaii Tribune Herald - - NEWS - — Milwaukee Jour­nal Sen­tinel

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump brought a big dose of his eco­nomic pop­ulism to Wis­con­sin on Tues­day, where he signed an ex­ec­u­tive or­der that would rein in a popular for­eign worker pro­gram and en­cour­age fed­eral agen­cies to “buy Amer­i­can.”

Trump is on the right track. The H-1B visa pro­gram is widely used by tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies but crit­ics con­tend it’s be­ing abused at the ex­pense of Amer­i­can la­bor. And why shouldn’t fed­eral agen­cies buy Amer­i­can prod­ucts? They should when­ever pos­si­ble.

The or­der, by it­self, might have a lim­ited im­pact but the the­ater is per­haps as im­por­tant as the ac­tual act. Trump is keep­ing a cam­paign prom­ise, and, af­ter a week of flip-flops on the Ex­port-Im­port Bank and China’s al­leged cur­rency ma­nip­u­la­tion, send­ing a mes­sage to his work­ing class sup­port­ers in places such as Wis­con­sin that he hasn’t for­got­ten them.

Crit­ics of the pro­gram claim staffing com­pa­nies are un­der­cut­ting Amer­i­can wages by us­ing the visas to re­cruit for­eign la­bor and then con­tract­ing those work­ers to large com­pa­nies.

That he chose Wis­con­sin, where he won a key vic­tory last fall, shows the state re­mains a crit­i­cal player in pres­i­den­tial pol­i­tics. Trump vis­ited Kenosha tool­maker Snap-on Inc., which is in House Speaker Paul Ryan’s district and is the home­town of White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.

The H-1B visa pro­gram has its place — help­ing com­pa­nies through­out the coun­try, but par­tic­u­larly in Sil­i­con Val­ley, fill jobs for which the sup­ply of Amer­i­can work­ers is thin. But an H-1B re­view is over­due. Crit­ics of the pro­gram claim staffing com­pa­nies are un­der­cut­ting Amer­i­can wages by us­ing the visas to re­cruit for­eign la­bor and then con­tract­ing those work­ers to large com­pa­nies. The As­so­ci­ated Press re­ports that em­ploy­ers as di­verse as Walt Dis­ney World and the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at San Francisco have fur­loughed tech em­ploy­ees and re­placed them with H-1B work­ers. That’s not the in­tent of the pro­gram and should not be al­lowed.

Trump’s or­der asks fed­eral agen­cies to re­view the pro­gram and pro­pose new rules to pre­vent fraud. The agen­cies also would pro­pose changes so that the visas are only given to “most-skilled or high­est-paid ap­pli­cants,” an ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial told the AP. In all, about 85,000 of the visas are awarded each year; in re­cent years, there have been sev­eral times that many ap­pli­cants.

Trump also wants to toughen up the re­quire­ment that Amer­i­can-made goods be used in cer­tain fed­eral con­struc­tion projects or in high­way projects that are paid for with fed­eral grants. Com­merce Sec­re­tary Wil­bur Ross will re­view how to close loop­holes in the cur­rent rules and re­port back to Trump, es­pe­cially on waivers to the buy-Amer­i­can rules in the na­tion’s trade deals.

Trump’s own record as a busi­ness­man is mixed on these is­sues. Many Trump prod­ucts are pro­duced over­seas, and he has hired for­eign work­ers at his prop­er­ties in­clud­ing at Mar-a-Lago, his club in Palm Beach, Fla., which has be­come his fre­quent base of op­er­a­tions on week­ends.

No mat­ter, he’s right on the over­all thrust of this ex­ec­u­tive or­der. Af­ter the agency re­view, Congress may need to act, though, to en­sure that “Buy Amer­i­can, Hire Amer­i­can” ac­tu­ally means some­thing.

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