(CN) — President Joe Biden signed an executive order Monday aimed at encouraging the federal government to buy American products made by American workers.
“I don’t buy for one second that the vitality of American manufacturing is a thing of the past,” Biden said during a speech at the White House. “It must be part of the engine of American prosperity now. We’ll buy American products and support American jobs, union jobs.”
Requirements for federal agencies to spend federal taxpayer money have long been in place, but a raft of waivers and exceptions made it easy to circumvent those requirements.
Biden said his administration will no longer allow those evasions “with impunity,” requiring federal agencies to come to the White House and explain why they award waivers in certain instances.
According to the president, agencies spend $600 billion annually on procurement and he faulted the Trump administration for not taking the “Buy American” provisions seriously enough. He said $3 billion was spent on foreign contracts during the previous year, with $300 million spent on foreign engines and vehicles.
“That’s going to change on our watch,” he said. “We are going to invest in American workers, unions and American businesses up and down the supply chain.”
Biden also said he would use the considerable might of the federal government’s research and development arm to invest in a future oriented less toward fossil fuels and more toward renewable energy.
“The federal government also owns an enormous fleet of vehicles which we’re going to replace with clean electric vehicles made right here in America by American workers — creating millions of autoworker jobs,” he said.
Biden said the plan will include the appointment of a person within the Office of Management and Budget whose sole focus will be on the federal government’s procurement policy and its alignment with Monday’s order.
“Waivers can only be used in limited circumstances,” Biden said.
Robert Scott directs trade and manufacturing policy at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington and said the order was a promising first step in Biden’s overarching campaign promises to make the economy accessible to working class people.
“This is the first step on a long road,” Scott said. “We’ve lost 5 million manufacturing jobs in the United States since 1997. It’s because of this loss that core working class voters have fled from the Democratic Party.”
The loss is keenly felt in the Upper Midwest, the South and parts of the Northeast, formerly the manufacturing hubs of the United States. But as companies strove to take advantage of cheap labor in developing countries in Asia and Central America those jobs disappeared, and some political pundits say Donald Trump capitalized on that angst in the 2016 presidential election to take Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Biden recaptured those states in 2020, perhaps due in part to the stylistic limitations of Trump’s presidency, but also due to Biden’s overt promises to restore manufacturing jobs to areas hurt by globalization.
“Manufacturing and construction jobs provide the best wages and benefits for noncollege-educated people,” Scott said.
Lori Wallach, the director of the Public Citizen’s Trade Watch, said the executive order is a good first step but noted it only provides an overview and a roadmap rather than specific and concrete policies.
“The EO seems to be an overview of what needs to be done to fix the problems rather than making specific changes,” Wallach said in a statement Monday. “So, they will need to take more action to close the trade-pact loophole, which has to be done before any money goes out for stimulus out it will leak out in contract offshoring.”
The trade-pact loophole means that approximately 60 countries with whom the United States has a trade deal can be treated by the federal government as though they are American for procurement purposes.
Closure of that loophole and an end to waivers will help, Wallach said.
The agricultural sector also expressed guarded optimism that Monday’s executive order will help American farmers who provide various products to the federal government.
“The previous administration started by making a similar show of support for these provisions but failed to put substance and action behind its words,” said Chuck Conner, the president of the National Council for Farmer Cooperatives. “Hopefully, by appointing a new director of Made In America within the White House, this administration will be more active in enforcing existing requirements in the law and in working with Congress to strengthen these provisions.”
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