The COVID-19 pandemic exposed how a global superpower becomes critically vulnerable when it depends on foreign nations to manufacture basic components, such as semiconductors, that are vital to the daily life of every American.
A nation that once led the world in manufacturing semiconductors watched helplessly this fall as General Motors temporarily shut down production at North American auto plants because the deadly pandemic decimated the overseas factories that our country now relies on to produce the chips that power nearly every device we use with an on and off switch.
The fiscal 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, advanced by the House Armed Services Committee in September, would help reverse this troubling trend by strengthening existing “Buy American” requirements that implement a basic principle: When American tax dollars are invested, they should be invested in American businesses and workers.
Our NDAA provision recognizes that a strong national defense requires a robust domestic defense-industrial base with thriving U.S.-based manufacturers, small businesses and, most importantly, American workers. “Buy American” encourages our defense-industrial base to leverage taxpayer dollars to source more parts from American-made manufacturers and build more with U.S. labor. Unfortunately, opponents of the provision seek to undermine this critical reform.
Recent criticism of our reform has followed a similar theme: that creating American jobs is bad for national security and will exclude products built by our allies. The reality is the exact opposite. The “Buy American” provision we champion reaffirms American priorities, strengthening our domestic supply chain while encouraging cooperation with qualifying countries and those with whom we have trade agreements.
An argument commonly used to critique “Buy American” is that the provision will increase the costs and complexity of doing business, or degrade the business environment in an industry where international cooperation and trade are the norm. This, so goes the argument, will harm our alliances or the interoperability of the U.S. armed forces when working alongside allies. This interpretation of the provision is uninformed at best and misleading at worst.
Current “Buy American” provisions in the established law allow the Department of Defense flexibility to contract with partner countries when it is in the public interest, a trade agreement supersedes the situation, a product is domestically unavailable or there’s an unreasonable cost, among others. Currently, 27 countries with which we have reciprocal agreements — including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway — already qualify under these waivers. Indeed, “Buy American” promotes the positive working relationships we’ve established with our allies and partners to reinforce America’s key supply chain.
Furthermore, the Defense Department’s planning documents recognize the need for policies that secure critical supply chains. For example, the Department of Defense Climate Adaptation Plan explicitly recommends assessing supply chain resilience and onshoring manufacturing capacity.
“Buy American” provisions do exactly this. “Buy American” encourages future manufacturing capacity by maintaining and growing our domestic workforce. By increasing domestic sourcing and manufacturing capacity, we strengthen America’s supply chain by improving our ability to build what we need, when we need it. As the national economy continues to confront supply chain disruptions brought on by COVID-19, we must do everything we can to reshore manufacturing and increase resiliency — especially on issues of national security.
In short, “Buy American” addresses pressing strategic needs identified by the Department of Defense, ensures a domestic workforce capable of supporting our national security-industrial base, and strengthens the valuable network of defense trade relationships between America, our allies and partners — resulting in our ability to produce and source materials necessary to defend our nation.
Rep. Donald Norcross, D-N.J., chairs the House Armed Services Committee’s Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., is a retired Army National Guard lieutenant colonel and chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Airland Subcommittee.