New 'Buy American' provision added to defense policy bill

By Tony Bertuca  / September 2, 2021

Rep. Donald Norcross (D-NJ) was successful in adding a "Buy American" amendment last night to the House Armed Services Committee's version of the fiscal year 2022 defense authorization bill that would require the Pentagon to begin procuring more materials for major defense acquisition programs from domestic sources.

The approved amendment would require the Pentagon to increase procurements from domestic sources from 55% to 60% immediately upon enactment of the bill, and then ramp up to 65% by 2024 and 75% by 2029.

Norcross, who is chairman of the House Armed Services tactical air and land forces subcommittee, has said the provision will strengthen the defense industrial base and protect the U.S. supply chain from vulnerabilities that could be exploited by China.

"I am proud to have fought for provisions that make America safer by investing in the American worker," he said in a statement. "The threats to the United States today are more complex, and our adversaries abroad like China and Russia are engaged in the types of business practices that cost American Jobs. This bill will put us on a path to build back better by increasing our domestic supply chain capabilities, strengthening our workforce and giving our servicemembers the tools they need to win the future fight."

It is unclear if the language will be able to withstand a House and Senate conference committee as Norcross has tried to push "Buy American" provisions and failed before.

During deliberations over the FY-21 National Defense Authorization Act, Norcross got the House committee to adopt an amendment that would have gradually increased "Buy American" requirements for major defense programs to 100% by 2026. The provision was stripped from the final bill.

"Conferees note the importance of the department working with trusted foreign partners and developing methodologies to understand beneficial ownership within the defense industrial base," the conference report stated to explain why the provision was not adopted.

But earlier this year, President Biden announced his desire to "reset" the U.S. government's approach to domestic preferences in manufacturing. In January, Biden signed an executive order bolstering existing "Buy American" laws.

But some lawmakers, U.S. allies and former defense officials have criticized the "Buy American" approach, saying it hurts U.S. relationships abroad.

Last year, the 25-nation Defense Memorandum of Understanding Attachés Group urged Senate lawmakers to oppose Norcross' provision during conference negotiations. If enacted, the group argued, the law would "greatly impair the reciprocal defense procurement agreements, which promote defense equipment cooperation and defense trade, that the United States has with numerous allies and partners."

Earlier this year, former Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work warned against a "bipartisan overemphasis" on strengthening "Buy American" laws because he said it "makes it much harder for us to source the best-available technologies."

"Right now, we're pressuring our allies to increase their military spending, we are trying to sell them our capabilities, in fact over the last four years, we expected them almost to buy U.S. capabilities, and we do not really purchase from them," he said during a Jan. 15 panel hosted by the Hudson Institute.

Last year, however, data analytics firm Govini released a report finding the number of Chinese companies in the U.S. defense industrial base has significantly increased since 2010. According to the report, Chinese suppliers totaled 655 in 2019, up 420% from 2010. The number of U.S. companies totaled 2,219, up 97%, according to Govini.

"The prevalence of China-based companies across the Department's supplier base will make it difficult to identify with certainty all of the cases where they are a single-source provider of a key technology or material," the report said.