Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Hey, It’s Infrastructure Week Again!

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President Joe Biden signs the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act on Nov. 15, 2021, on the South Lawn of the White House. Official White House Photo by Cameron Smith

Congress finally got its act together and passed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure investment package last year. Now it’s time to implement it, and we must make sure these projects are Made in America.

It’s that time again — infrastructure Week is here! But this time, things are different.

Regular readers of this blog will recall that in recent years, Infrastructure Week had become a bit of a running joke, an event in which there was broad bipartisan support but not political will to take action. That all changed in 2021, when Congress passed a $1.2 trillion bipartisan investment in infrastructure projects. President Biden signed the legislation in November.

Now shovels are hitting the ground across the country, with officials reporting on Monday that 4,300 projects are now underway. This is worth celebrating! After years of inaction, the United States is finally getting to work and rebuilding its long-neglected roads, bridges, railways, broadband, and more.

But don’t think our work at the Alliance for American Manufacturing is done! In many ways, it’s just getting started.

The infrastructure bill signed by Biden included the inclusion of legislation called the Build America, Buy America Act, which requires that federally funded infrastructure investments are completed with American-made iron, steel, manufactured products and construction materials. The Biden administration issued its guidance on Build America, Buy America in April, and it officially went into effect on Friday.

Build America, Buy America (BABA) is critical, as it aims to ensure the U.S. reinvests all that infrastructure tax money back into American workers, manufacturers, and communities. But whether that happens is not a given — the people implementing the new law must be committed to enforcing it, and it’s also critical that the waiver system isn’t abused, which has led to lax Buy America enforcement in the past.

AAM President Scott Paul wrote to the U.S. Department of Transportation to urge the agency to properly enforce Build America, Buy America and not weaken the intent of the law. Here’s Paul:

“Congress intended for there to be high bar of approval for public interest waivers, not for their use to be routine or frequent. After all, erosion of Buy America policies by departments and agencies – DOT included – is one of the primary reasons why Congress included BABA in the IIJA.”

Paul also wrote to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), noting that one proposed waiver that would delay BABA by six months “will ensure that none of that $15 billion in federal assistance awarded by HUD will be subject to the Buy America preference policies in BABA.” He continues:

“Such delays in Buy America implementation run counter to Congress’s intent in enacting BABA, the sentiments of the substantial majority of the American public that believe U.S. tax dollars should be used to purchase American made materials for our public works infrastructure, and the president’s directives to Executive Branch agencies…”

The infrastructure law is a once-in-a-generation investment, one that not only has the potential to rebuild crumbling infrastructure but also rebuild many of our manufacturing capabilities, creating millions of good jobs in the process. Rather than seeking waivers, officials should be finding ways to maximize our investment.

The good news is that the United States is already well positioned to do just that. Paul appeared on Fox Business over the weekend to make the case for Made in America infrastructure.

“We’re not going to need to depend on steel from China or any other country,” Paul said. “Domestic producers are going to be circulating that money back into the economy, that’s just something you won’t see if these projects are outsourced overseas.”

President Biden often talks about how infrastructure will be Made in America, and the Biden administration admirably has prioritized Buy America, including by creating a new Made in America Office at the Office of Management and Budget. That office, headed by Celeste Drake, recently unveiled a new website designed to bring transparency to the Buy America waiver process.

The implementation of the long-awaited infrastructure law is the administration’s chance to show it is indeed serious about Buy America. Doing so will require work across agencies and be a change in pace for some officials who have previously relied on waivers to get around Buy America.

But the stakes are too high to fail this test. The day that Biden signed the bill, he called it will be the moment that historians will look back and say that “America began to win the competition of the 21st century.” If we rebuild infrastructure but import all the supplies and things we need to do the job right, we will fail that competition.

Let’s get to work rebuilding America’s infrastructure — and let’s make sure it’s Made in America, too.

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