Mur­phy talks bol­ster­ing ‘Buy Amer­i­can’ rules

New Haven Register (New Haven, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - By Luther Turmelle lturmelle@nhreg­is­ter.com @LutherTurmelle on Twit­ter

Mur­phy has been seek­ing to close loop­holes in “Buy Amer­i­can” laws since 2009, when he was a rep­re­sen­ta­tive.

WALLING­FORD » U.S. Sen. Chris Mur­phy, D-Conn., doesn’t give up eas­ily, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to chang­ing fed­eral rules re­gard­ing the gov­ern­ment buy­ing prod­ucts from Amer­i­can com­pa­nies.

Mur­phy has been seek­ing to close loop­holes in “Buy Amer­i­can” laws since 2009, when he was U.S. rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Con­necti­cut’s con­gres­sional 5th District. The Cheshire res­i­dent hasn’t achieved his goal, but he’s op­ti­mistic that streak of fu­til­ity may change.

De­spite his dis­agree­ments with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on a va­ri­ety of other is­sues, Mur­phy said Trump’s “Amer­ica First” theme may ac­tu­ally work in fa­vor of the lat­est ver­sion of the “Buy Amer­i­can” bill.

“I ac­tu­ally think we’re mak­ing bet­ter progress with this than we did with Pres­i­dent Obama,” Mur­phy said. “This ad­min­is­tra­tion is more se­ri­ous about ‘Buy Amer­i­can.’”

Mur­phy shared his thoughts Fri­day dur­ing a fo­rum with about two-dozen lead­ers from man­u­fac­tur­ing busi­nesses that have a pres­ence in Con­necti­cut. The fo­rum was held at All­nex USA and was ar­ranged by the Quin­nip­iac Cham­ber of Com­merce.

Part of Mur­phy’s op­ti­mism comes from Trump’s flurry of meet­ings in re­cent days with Demo­cratic leg­isla­tive lead­ers, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., re­gard­ing a va­ri­ety of is­sues in­clud­ing im­mi­gra­tion, bor­der se­cu­rity and the fed­eral debt ceil­ing.

But even if the pres­i­dent is will­ing make mul­ti­ple deals with Democrats to get leg­is­la­tion passed, Mur­phy said what­ever is achieved still must make it past Repub­li­can law­mak­ers be­fore it can get to Trump.

“In the case of im­mi­gra­tion, you don’t get a more hot but­ton topic with the Repub­li­can cau­cus,” Mur­phy said. “We’ll see.”

The sen­a­tor’s lat­est bid to beef up “Buy Amer­i­can” pro­vi­sions for gov­ern­ment pro­cure­ment is BuyAmer­i­can.gov Act. Cur­rent law al­lows fed­eral agen­cies to ob­tain Buy Amer­i­can Act waiv-

ers to pur­chase goods or ser­vices from for­eign com­pa­nies in ex­tra­or­di­nary cir­cum­stances.

One ex­am­ple of that loop­hole is when an Amer­i­can-made good is un­avail­able or will in­crease the cost of a prod­uct to pro­hib­i­tively high lev­els, Mur­phy said. Fed­eral agen­cies rou­tinely fail to fol­low proper pro­to­cols, he said, and egre­giously overuse this waiver without tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion how it af­fects U.S. jobs. There cur­rently is no gov­ern­ment-wide sys­tem track­ing fed­eral agen­cies’ use of these waivers, Mur­phy said. The new leg­is­la­tion would create a cen­tral­ized online hub to in­crease trans­parency and en­sure fed­eral agen­cies pri­or­i­tize the pur­chase of Amer­i­can-made goods.

The BuyAmer­i­can.gov Act would re­quire the Gen­eral Ser­vices Ad­min­is­tra­tion to es­tab­lish a web­site, called BuyAmer­i­can.gov, where gov­ern­ment watch­dogs and the public could view any Buy Amer­i­can waiver fed­eral agen­cies use. The web­site would include con­tact in­for­ma­tion for the con­tract­ing agen­cies, which would aid man­u­fac­tur­ers and other in­ter­ested par­ties in iden­ti­fy­ing con­tract op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Some of the man­u­fac­tur­ing ex­ec­u­tives re­mained cau­tious about the im­pact that Mur­phy’s leg­is­la­tion might have.

“We want to see how the whole ‘Buy Amer­i­can’ process plays out be­cause its go­ing to af­fect our abil­ity to do busi­ness with gov­ern­ment,” said Marna Wil­ber, di­rec­tor of cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions and public re­la­tions for Assa Abloy, the world’s largest lock­maker and the cor­po­rate par­ent of New Haven­based Sar­gent Man­u­fac­tur­ing, which makes locks and lock com­po­nents.

Over the years, Mur­phy has in­tro­duced two pieces of leg­is­la­tion that aim to strengthen ex­ist­ing stan­dards and pri­or­i­tize the pur­chase of Amer­i­can­made goods.

The first is the 21st Cen­tury Buy Amer­i­can Act. Although Mur­phy hasn’t rein­tro­duced the 21st Cen­tury Buy Amer­i­can Act this year, its pro­vi­sions include:

• Clos­ing loop­holes that al­low fed­eral agen­cies to waive Buy Amer­i­can re­quire­ments. By clos­ing these loop­holes, agen­cies would rarely be able to use a “public in­ter­est waiver” without con­sid­er­ing lon­gand short-term ef­fects on U.S. em­ploy­ment.

• Pro­vid­ing re­sources for Amer­i­can man­u­fac­tur­ers of items in short sup­ply to help them com­pete against for­eign man­u­fac­tur­ers for U.S. gov­ern­ment con­tracts. This is im­por­tant be­cause by claim­ing an item is “non­avail­able” do­mes­ti­cally, or al­most non-avail­able, fed­eral agen­cies can avoid cer­tain “Buy Amer­i­can” re­quire­ments.

• In­crease the do­mes­tic con­tent per­cent­age re­quire­ment. The 21st Cen­tury Buy Amer­i­can Act would in­crease the do­mes­tic con­tent per­cent­age re­quire­ment from 50 per­cent to 60 per­cent, mean­ing that in or­der to qual­ify as Amer­i­can-made, a com­pany must pro­duce a ma­jor­ity of its ma­te­ri­als in the U.S.

The Amer­i­can Jobs Matter Act would re­quire the Depart­ment of De­fense, for the first time, to mea­sure do­mes­tic em­ploy­ment as a fac­tor in re­ward­ing a con­tract. Amer­i­can man­u­fac­tur­ing firms will be able to use their con­tri­bu­tion to the U.S. econ­omy as fac­tor in win­ning fed­eral con­tracts.

LUTHER TURMELLE / HEARST CON­NECTI­CUT ME­DIA

U.S. Sen. Chris Mur­phy an­swers a ques­tion from a group of Con­necti­cut man­u­fac­tur­ers Fri­day dur­ing a fo­rum in Walling­ford.

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