Senator says Buy American waiver should not apply to Small Shipyard grants

Written by Nick Blenkey
Senator Baldwin wants no Buy American waivers in Small Shipyard grants

Senator Tammy Baldwin

U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) is calling on the Biden Administration to commit to never applying a recently finalized Buy American waiver to shipyard grants and to help ensure American companies and workers are benefitting from taxpayer-funded shipbuilding.

In 2019, Senator Baldwin successfully included her bipartisan Strengthening Buy America for Small Shipyard Grants Act in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, requiring that products and materials purchased with Small Shipyard grant funding be American made and closing a loophole that previously allowed for the purchase of foreign-made equipment. With Senator Baldwin’s provision, commercially available, off-the-shelf items purchased with these grants must be manufactured in the United States/

The senator’s office says that the new Buy American waiver could undercut Baldwin’s Buy America policies that are currently in place and allow the government to buy foreign companies’ products, instead of American. Specifically, Baldwin pushed the Department of Transportation (DOT) not to allow the government to circumvent Build America, Buy America requirements for Small Shipyard grants under $500,000, which would have an outsized impact on the program and undercut the requirements Baldwin championed to ensure the grants are used to purchase American products, made by American workers and businesses.

According to the senator’s office, the rule finalized by DOT last month would waive the Build America, Buy America requirements for certain awards under $500,000, including the Small Shipyard Grant Program. The senator says that the waiver may significantly impact the program – where more than a quarter of all awards have been for less than $500,000 since 2008. Wisconsin businesses like Marine Travelift in Sturgeon Bay, which employs Wisconsin workers and uses Wisconsin-sourced materials to manufacture boat handling equipment, are among those that could be impacted by this waiver.

“While I recognize that the waiver is intended to allow DOT and industry to focus Build America, Buy America efforts on the greatest opportunities for American workers, the final rule has the potential to undercut my bipartisan Strengthening Buy America for Small Shipyards Act, which closed a loophole in Buy America policy at the Maritime Administration,” wrote Senator Baldwin in a letter to DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Maritime Administrator Ann Phillips. “I therefore request your assurance that the final waiver is never used to allow taxpayer funded Small Shipyard grants to purchase equipment that is not Made in America.”

Baldwin has long advocated for Buy America policies so taxpayer dollars are supporting American workers and businesses whenever possible. In 2021, she successfully included her Build America, Buy America Act in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to strengthen requirements that federal funded infrastructure projects use American-made steel, construction materials, and manufactured products.

“I am proud of the impact the Small Shipyard Grant Program has had supporting our small shipyards and domestic manufacturers, and I am proud of the Build America, Buy America requirements I worked to include in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law,” concluded Baldwin. “There is a better way to ensure the success of both for American workers.”

“We appreciate the senator’s continued leadership in making sure Wisconsin manufacturers get fairer treatment when bidding for grant-funded projects,” said Erich Pfeifer, President and CEO of Marine Travelift in Sturgeon Bay. “Her work helps make sure products like the mobile boat hoists our workers build right here in Sturgeon Bay aren’t passed over by federal agencies for foreign-built products.”

The full letter is available HERE

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