Lipinski Introduces Bill to Strengthen Buy America Rules

February 8, 2017

Yesterday, Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) introduced a bill to strengthen and expand the “Buy America” statutes that impose domestic content requirement on most federal transportation and infrastructure grant programs.

Lipinski issued a statement saying that his bill “sets domestic content standards for indirect purchases by U.S. Department of Transportation grantees, ensuring that tax dollars spent on aviation, highway, transit, and rail infrastructure will support U.S. manufacturing and mining jobs, rather than jobs in other countries.  In addition, while ‘Buy America’ has traditionally applied only to transportation projects, Lipinski’s bill would expand these requirements to a number of other federal grant programs.”

Lipinski’s legislation was introduced in the House as H.R. 904 and has some similarities to a bill he introduced in 2015 (H.R. 2451, 114th Congress) that never went anywhere. But the new legislation makes changes to both the Buy American Act (a 1930s statute that only applies to direct federal purchases and contracts) as well as Buy America provisions applying to grant programs.

Like Lipinski’s previous bill, the new legislation makes the following changes:

  • Applies Buy America rules to airport projects built using passenger facility charge (PFC) revenues, not just federal airport grant money.
  • Ends the “CMAQ loophole” that presently allows states and localities to use federal highway grant money buy mass transit buses that don’t comply with the Buy America rules for buses purchased with federal mass transit grant money.
  • Requires FHWA to review whether or not to include manufactured products not containing iron or steel under its Buy America rules.
  • Requires Amtrak and the FAA to partner with the National Institute of Standards and Technology to conduct supplier scouting.
  • Requires DOT to develop audit procedures and component guidance.

The new bill also adds new provisions:

  • Makes the temporary applicability of Buy America provisions to Safe Drinking Water Act revolving fund grants permanent law.
  • Explicitly makes Buy America applicable to federal loans and loan guarantees under the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) program. At present, Buy America does not explicitly apply to RRIF loans (though Secretary LaHood did turn down one large high-speed rail loan request because it was not Buy America compliant).
  • Expands Buy America requirements to federal grants made by the Rural Utilities Service, the Rural Water Supply program, Community Development Block Grants, and grants under the Economic Development Administration.
  • Standardizes the Buy America waiver notice, comment and approval processes amongst all USDOT modal administrations.
  • Requires USDOT to issue an annual public report on all waivers granted during each fiscal year, the country of origin for all products used under a waiver, and the total value of acquisitions made.

For a full history of Buy America provisions, read ETW’s The Trump Infrastructure Agenda – What Would “Buy American, Hire American” Really Entail?

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