A group of House Democrats introduced the “Invest in American Jobs Act of 2013” on March 5, 2013, which bill is intended to strengthen current “Buy America” preferences by ensuring that money spent on infrastructure projects benefits U.S. suppliers. The Buy America Act is legislation that gives preference to U.S. firms when awarding federally funded contracts for transportation infrastructure projects like highways, bridges, airports, and public transportation.
The new legislation seeks to increase the domestic content requirement for equipment used in public transportation and aviation facilities from 60 percent to 100 percent. It would also tighten the current waiver process. Under the current process, a party will be granted a waiver if they assert (1) that the application of the Buy America provisions would be inconsistent with the public interest; (2) that such materials and products are not produced in the United States; or (3) that inclusion of domestic material will increase costs by more than 25 percent. The new law requires the Secretary of any agency granting a waiver provide a detailed written justification for the waiver in the Federal Register and to publish a request for public interest comments. Democratic lawmakers point to the San Francisco Bay Bridge project as an example of the current law’s waiver process gone awry. They claim that the money saved purchasing Chinese steel for the bridge was negated by the associated social safety net costs, like unemployment benefits, in addition to the lost tax revenue. Had the waiver been subject to wider public review and comment, as provided for in the new Act, it might not have been granted.