Biden to sign executive order reforming ‘Buy American’ rules

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President Biden plans to sign an executive order on Monday aimed at strengthening “Buy American” rules with the goal of increasing the federal government’s procurement of American-made goods.

The order would set in motion several changes to the implementation of the laws requiring federal government agencies to procure materials and products domestically.

According to administration officials, the order Biden plans to sign Monday would create a new senior role at the White House Office of Management and Budget to oversee the implementation of the new rules. It would create a central review of waivers for Buy American requirements with the aim of reducing the number of unnecessary waivers, which allow agencies to purchase goods overseas. It would also call for a website where waiver requests can be publicly viewed.

The order also aims to increase domestic content requirements and close current loopholes. And it would direct federal agencies to use the manufacturing extension partnership, a network of small and medium-sized businesses across 50 states and Puerto Rico, to ensure that agencies are connecting with new domestic suppliers. 

Officials said that the order would ensure that the federal government increasingly purchases American-made products and manufactured goods and thereby bolsters domestic manufacturing, though they did not identify particularly targets for domestic purchases that they want the federal government to hit.

“[Biden] is going to take a major step toward his goal of rebuilding the backbone of America  manufacturing unions and the middle class,” an administration official said. “It’s based on his view that making sure that we are making things in America and all of America is core to our economic strategy.”

The executive order is in keeping with the “Buy American” plan described by Biden on the campaign trail before he was elected president. Biden called for a $400 billion investment in “Buy American” procurements during his first term.

Former President Trump similarly signed a “Buy American and Hire American” executive order months after taking office in 2017 that focused on tightening rules for visas given to foreign workers and directed the government to fully enforce laws requiring agencies to purchase domestic products.

Officials from the new administration argued that Trump’s order did not result in any actual change.

“In practice, nothing happened,” the administration official said. “The approach that the president is launching tomorrow is designed to make sure that we move aggressively and clearly to fundamentally change the structure and the process of the Buy America provisions so that not only the definition of domestic content is upgraded but the process by which they can be waived is tightened and ultimately the thresholds are increased.”

The order will follow more than two dozen executive actions Biden has already signed in the first days of his presidency. Other actions have focused on undoing policies undertaken during the Trump administration, and many are aimed at combating the coronavirus pandemic. 

Biden is expected to sign other orders this week addressing racial equity, climate change, health care and immigration.

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