Nearly eight months after President Donald J. Trump signed his executive order “Buy American and Hire American,” an expert on certifying whether goods are made in the United States shared with Big League Politics the challenges in certification and enforcing Trump’s intentions.
A source familiar with how the White House drafted the executive order told Big League Politics: “There are zero teeth in it, you know? Let’s of fanfare, lots of publicity, back-slapping and hand-shaking with Trump–and now, it is getting resisted, like as if it meant nothing.”
According to the president’s directive, all agencies were supposed to have turned into both the Department of Commerce and the Office of Management and Budget how they plan to comply. These plans are to include, searchable databases of certified vendors, storage arrangements for the documents and simplifications of their internal procurement procedures.
Reiser said Trump’s executive order was the president’s attempt to bring federal procurement back in synch with the law.
The Buy American Act of 1933 was signed by President Herbert Hoover the day before he handed over the White House to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Act was championed by Rep. Joseph W. Byrne, (D.-Tenn.), then the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and later Speaker of the House.
Byrne’s idea was that given support by the Hearst newspapers and by Hoover’s Commissioner of Customs Francis F.A. Eble, who would go on to start the Buy American Club.
“The law says that the U.S. government has to show preferential treatment to U.S. manufacturers,” Reiser said. “It is so the government has to buy from its own.”
Reiser said that from the 1970s, the federal government has been providing waivers to the 1933 law. “In the 1980s and 1990s, it has picked up big-time.”
When the president signed Executive Order 13788, the White House was optimistic.
A senior administration official speaking on background on Easter Monday, the day before the executive order was signed in the headquarters of the tool company Snap-On in Kenosha, Wisconsin, said the executive order would correct the abuse of the Buy American Act waiver process.
“Okay, so the culture immediately changes across the agencies. We have a lax enforcement, lax monitoring, lax compliance,” the official said.
“We are moving forward with a muscular new policy that we’re announcing tomorrow,” the official said. “We’re going to take a much closer look at all of those waivers.”
The administration official said the old culture of easy waivers would end.
“There are going to be fewer waivers that are going to be granted even as we’re evaluating the waiver process,” the official said.”
“We are adding, for example, this new standard for looking at the bid by taking into account the role of dumped and injuriously subsidized content that might give a low bidder an unfair advantage relative to domestic-sourced content,” the official said.
Reiser said that this confidence was misplaced and the executive order is being ignored, he said.
“My sources, the people I speak to every day, they tell me they are not doing anything with it,” he said. “They have no waivers available, but there is no enforcement—there is zero enforcement on the Buy American Act.”
At least in the past, companies would apply for the waivers, so at least there was a public record of who was doing what, not anymore, he said.
“Now, we are just getting lip-service from the administration,” he said.
“There are 750,000 prime contractors to the United States government and there are millions of small guys—and these guys don’t see any enforcement and they don’t think the administration is serious,” he said.
Waivers are supposed to be granted only if domestic U.S. sources cannot meet more than 50 percent of the U.S. demand or if the cost of the American product is deemed by the government contracting officer as exorbitant.
Reiser said over the years, Congress has cut out special deals by making some products completely exempt from the Buy American Act. “For instance, swords—that was a special deal for a sword company in London.”
Other exempt items are: eye piece glass for microscopes, lavender oil, bulk natural menthol, canned Mandarin oranges, metallic gold thread, crude opium, cobra venom, fine linen for an altar and olive oil, he said. “I don’t understand the olive oil—go to California, the olive oil there is the best in the world.”
Reiser said another twist is that Democrats support the Buy American Act, while the Trump administration is full of globalists, who are opposed to the Buy American Act, an example of this was the visit paid to Certified by House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D.-Md.) and other leading Democratic lawmakers.
The certification business started in 2008, he said. It was a reaction to his experiences at a magazine called “Made in the U.S.A., and over and over again, he would find out that people would lie to him about having their goods made in the United States.
“We started certifying people who we were putting in the magazine and we wanted to talk about U.S. manufacturing and we realized we’d become a Third World country if we didn’t produce and manufacture our own products in the United States,” he said.
“We were proved correct, as we see the middle-class going down, down, down, because the middle-class is the manufacturing stronghold,” he said.
It is not just the blue-collar jobs, he said. It is also the middle-management and first-line supervisor white collar jobs, too.
Reiser said it is folly to accept that America can have a service-based economy and at the same time have engineering jobs.
“Engineers work really close to the line, when it comes to manufacturing,” he said.
The countries, who are taking away our manufacturing jobs, are not going to be satisfied with the lower-end engineer jobs, they want the high-end, design-build engineers, so that their manufacturing sector is vertically integrated, he said.
Reiser said it is unconscionable that industries created in the United States go are completely overseas. “We don’t make an LED in the United States, we don’t make a cellphone in the United States.”
Many companies recognize the value of having the “Made in the U.S.A.” label, not just companies looking to do business with the federal government, but to get certified a company has to pay for a full audit of its complete supply chain, he said.
Reiser said part of the audit is to catch shortcuts that some companies use with foreign-made components,” he said. “Another thing people don’t know is that ‘Made in America’ is not the same as ‘Made in the U.S.A,’ because of free trade agreements, like NAFTA, Canada and Mexico are treated as ‘America, but they are obviously not in the U.S.A.”
After the initial audit, Reiser’s team follows up quarterly in order to make sure the certification is current, he said.
Note: Big League Politics reached out to administration offices, including the Department of Commerce and the White House for comment. Despite back-and-forth communications, the administration did not respond before publication.