by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
When President Donald Trump signed an executive order last month directing the government to show more favoritism to American companies competing for federal purchases and contracts, he treated it like a major step forward. Fortunately, it was not a big change; unfortunately, it was a step backward toward old mistakes.
Measure the size of the change by the number of times that phrases such as “consistent with applicable law” were used in the order. Applicable law, as senior administration officials complained in their background briefing on the order, has been “enormously diluted over time.” Actually, it’s always been full of contradictions, evasions, and bloviation.
So is the order. Federal agencies must “develop and propose policies for their agencies to ensure that, to the extent permitted by law, federal financial assistance awards and federal procurements maximize the use of materials produced in the United States, including manufactured products; components of manufactured products; and materials such as steel, iron, aluminum, and cement.”
The order commands federal agencies to commission layers of reports and proposals at various dates between June and November. The process ends around Thanksgiving. Give thanks, then, that the law does not always permit favoritism and the reports will say so—unless the agencies miss the deadlines.
Provisions of the April 18 order acknowledge that existing laws permit a variety of “public interest waivers” of Buy American laws. In other words, the same lawmakers who wrote Buy American laws also realized that the government could be depriving itself of cheaper or better products produced abroad. Policy is hypocrisy by another name.