White House issues new rules on ‘Buy American’ waivers


The Biden administration on Friday issued guidance to federal agencies that aims to streamline the implementation of the president’s “Made in America” executive order.

The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) sent a memo to federal agencies and department heads outlining how the administration will seek to reduce waivers and increase transparency so the federal government outsources its manufacturing needs less often. The guidance was obtained exclusively by The Hill ahead of its release.

“It requires agencies to examine current Made in America practices and develop plans to improve them. These efforts will work together to promote economic security, national security, and good-paying union jobs here at home,” Celeste Drake, director of the Made in America Office within OMB, said in a release outlining the guidance.

The guidance on waivers will apply to more than 100 federal agencies, but will be phased in over the next several months. The waiver review process will start with 24 key agencies named under the Chief Financial Officers Act, which includes Cabinet agencies and additional departments like NASA and the General Services Administration.

Friday’s memo requires agencies to designate a senior official by June 30 who will coordinate with Drake and the Made in America Office and strategize how to increase its use of American manufacturing. The designated official will also submit regular reports to Drake on their use of Made in America statutes, rules, regulations and orders.

The memo also includes guidance for agencies that wish to submit waivers to work around the Made in America order in an effort to cut down on the need for exemptions.

Government agencies are able to obtain exemptions for Buy American requirements in certain circumstances, including if the materials they are seeking aren’t available domestically, if the cost is deemed unreasonable or if it would violate trade agreements or deals with foreign governments.

As part of efforts to increase transparency, the administration will maintain a public database that displays all proposed waivers for Made in America laws. The site is expected to be up and running by early fiscal 2022, which begins in October. One goal of the website is to make it clearer to U.S. businesses what federal contracting opportunities are available.

“Increasing consistency and public transparency of these waivers will build confidence that Made in America laws are operating as intended while strengthening U.S. manufacturing capabilities, supporting good jobs and ensuring the future will be Made in America,” Drake said of the guidance.

Biden in January signed an executive order to increase federal procurement of U.S.-made goods by tightening Buy American requirements. The order also established the Made in America Office.

Drake was appointed in late April to serve as the first director of the office. A former trade and globalization policy specialist for the AFL-CIO union, Drake’s position was created with the goal of reducing unnecessary waivers that allowed agencies to purchase foreign-made goods.

Tags federal procurement Made in America made in america office
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