Domestic Preferences

On March 7, 2024, the Department of Transportation’s (“DOT”) Federal Highway Administration (“FHWA”) announced a proposed rule to rescind a longstanding general waiver of Buy America requirements for manufactured products (the “Manufactured Products Waiver”).  If finalized, this would be a major change for the agency, reversing a policy that has been in place for more than 40 years.

FHWA has imposed Buy America requirements for domestic iron and steel on its projects since 1978 (see 23 U.S.C. § 313; 23 CFR § 635.410), but in 1983, the agency determined that it was in the public interest to waive the requirement as to manufactured products based on the agency’s belief that manufactured products were not used in federal highway projects in sufficient quantities to have an effect on the overall cost of a project and therefore did not require Buy America protections.  That general waiver has been in place ever since.

This change in policy comes in the wake of the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s Build America, Buy America (“BABA”) provisions, which expanded Buy America coverage broadly in federal financial assistance programs for infrastructure.  BABA requires that all steel, iron, construction materials, and manufactured products used in such products be “produced in the United States.”  BABA also discourages the use of general applicability waivers like FHWA’s Manufactured Products Waiver and required review of existing waivers. 

FHWA sought comments on its longstanding manufactured products waiver in March 2023 and received over 9,400 comments from the public.  Commenters included manufacturers, labor organizations, construction contractors, industry associations, State departments of transportation, and even members of Congress.  Based on a consideration of this feedback and in recognition of other domestic content policies, including Executive Order 14005, “Ensuring the Future Is Made in All of America by All of America’s Workers,” FHWA is proposing to discontinue its Manufactured Products Waiver and modify its regulations to include domestic content requirements for manufactured products.Continue Reading Federal Highway Administration Announces Proposed Rule Ending Longstanding Buy America Waiver for Manufactured Products

On December 30, 2021, the FAR Council issued a final rule to update the trade agreements thresholds implemented under the Trade Agreements Act (“TAA”).  The new thresholds take effect January 1, 2022.

The TAA thresholds are adjusted every two years and set the value a contract must meet or exceed in order for the World Trade Organization Government Procurement Agreement (“WTO GPA”) and free trade agreements (“FTAs”) to apply.  For supply, service, and construction contracts that meet or exceed the stated thresholds, Buy American Act (“BAA”) requirements are waived in accordance with the TAA, and the Government is required to treat eligible products and services from designated countries on an equal basis as domestic products and services.

The updated thresholds, to be listed in FAR 25.402(b), are provided below.Continue Reading New Trade Agreements Act Thresholds Take Effect January 1, 2022

Under the January 2021 “Made in America” Executive Order 14005, President Biden established a new Made in America Office to oversee and administer domestic preference requirements in federal procurements.  Housed within the Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”), the Made in America Office was tasked with, among other things, reviewing and approving agency waivers of any Made in America Laws—including, for example, waivers of the Buy American Act (“BAA”) and Trade Agreements Act (“TAA”), as well as developing a publicly available website to post the descriptions of the proposed waivers and justifications for each.  Last week, the Made in America Office launched its new website, establishing for the first time a centralized, government-wide database of all proposed waivers of Made in America Laws.
Continue Reading The Made in America Office Website Is Live

The government is moving forward with further changes to Buy American Act (“BAA”) regulations.  But based on yesterday’s public meeting to discuss the July 30 notice of proposed rulemaking (“NPRM”) to revise existing BAA regulations, it remains to be seen exactly where those changes are headed.

As discussed in our prior client alert, the NPRM implements Executive Order 14005 (“Ensuring the Future Is Made in All of America by All of America’s Workers”) by proposing three major changes to existing BAA regulations: (1) higher domestic content thresholds; (2) enhanced price preferences for “critical” items and components; and (3) new domestic content reporting requirements for “critical” items and components.  The agenda for the public meeting covered each of these changes, as well as other questions raised in the NPRM related to BAA waivers and exceptions.Continue Reading Buy American Act Update: FAR Council Holds Public Meeting on New Proposed Rule

On June 11, 2021, the White House released new guidance on its plans to limit waivers of domestic sourcing laws, bolstering its January 2021 Executive Order on “Ensuring the Future is Made in All of America by All of America’s Workers.”  The guidance, entitled “Increasing Opportunities for Domestic Sourcing and Reducing the Need for Waivers from Made in America Laws,” provides insight on how the Biden Administration intends to enforce domestic sourcing laws such as the Buy American Act (“BAA”) over the coming years.

We have previously written about the January 2021 Executive Order here.  Among other things the Executive Order established a federal Made in America Office (“MIAO”) to review agency decisions to waive laws such as the BAA from procurements, grants, and other government contracting activities.  It also directed the Office of Management and Budget to establish reporting and oversight procedures to promote enforcement of the Made in America Laws.  The guidance fulfills that requirement.

Among other things, the guidance:

  • Requires each agency to designate a Senior Accountable Official, an official responsible for coordinating with the Made in America Director to implement the waiver review process,
  • Establishes the procedures for review of waiver requests by the Made in America Office (“MIAO”),
  • Implements the Executive Order’s requirement that acquiring activities prepare agency reports on compliance with Made in America Laws, and
  • Explains the process to develop the public database of all proposed waivers by early fiscal year 2022.

Importantly, the guidance creates an “initial phase” of implementation for the Executive Order, indicating that future phases will follow.  In this “initial phase,” the Biden Administration will focus on (1) Jones Act waivers and (2) non-availability procurement waivers pursuant to the BAA proposed by the 24 agencies subject to the Chief Financial Officers (“CFO”) Act.  During the first quarter of fiscal year 2022, the MIAO will phase in reviews of waivers proposed by non-CFO Act agencies and other types of waiver requests.

In a blog post announcing the guidance, the new Director of the Made in America Office, Celeste Drake, stated that the guidance is intended “to improve practices and processes to ensure that Made in America laws are not a mere compliance exercise,” as well as “reinforc[e] the actions announced in the 100-Day Supply Chain Review.”Continue Reading White House Issues Guidance on Limiting Waivers of Domestic Sourcing Laws – What Contractors Need to Know

The American Rescue Plan, signed into law last month, includes $1.9 trillion in economic stimulus, healthcare, and related funding.  And just last week the Biden administration released an infrastructure proposal, the American Jobs Plan, that includes $2.3 trillion in transportation, connectivity, power, and other critical infrastructure investments.

Contractors are right to view these plans as massive opportunities — but should be cognizant of the regulatory strings that often attach to government spending.  In general, these can include Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and agency-specific FAR supplements for federal procurements, as well as the nonprocurement uniform requirements (2 C.F.R. Part 200) and related agency-specific regulations that attach to Federal grant funds even when disbursed by state or local entities.

Now, some Congressional members are seeking to add new restrictions that would significantly overhaul the existing domestic preference regime for Federal procurements — mere weeks after the promulgation of new Buy American regulations and the release of a new Executive Order to further tighten the application of these rules.Continue Reading U.S. Senators Propose Trade-Pact Waivers Amidst Focus on Domestic Preference Laws

Last week, President Trump issued a new executive order, entitled “Strengthening Buy-American Preferences for Infrastructure Projects.”  This order serves as an extension of the President’s earlier April 2017 “Buy American and Hire American” executive order, which we have previously analyzed in this space.  The April 2017 order stated that “it shall be the policy of the executive branch to buy American and hire American,” and, among other things, directed agencies to “scrupulously, monitor, enforce, and comply with” domestic preference laws (referred to by the executive order as “Buy American Laws”) and to minimize use of waivers that would permit the purchase of foreign end products.

The President’s new order continues to emphasize the importance of “the use of goods, products, and materials produced in the United States,” but is specifically directed towards infrastructure projects that are recipients of federal financial assistance awards.  As we have reported previously, federally-financed infrastructure has also been a stated area of focus for the Trump administration, although the Administration’s “Legislative Outline for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America” released last year curiously lacked any domestic preference requirements.

The new executive order makes up for this previous omission and then some:  it has the potential to affect a vast number of programs and projects, and may in fact impose domestic sourcing requirements in areas—such as internet infrastructure—that are not typically targets for domestic preferences.Continue Reading Trump’s New Executive Order Requires Additional Buy American Preferences For Infrastructure Projects

Last month, GAO released a report analyzing federal agency implementation of the Buy American Act (“BAA”), 41 U.S.C. §§ 8301-8305.  As we have previously reported, BAA enforcement is an area of focus for the Trump Administration, which has repeatedly emphasized the need to “Buy American and Hire American,” including in an April 2017 executive order.  And for government contractors, compliance with the BAA and other domestic sourcing regimes also has been an increasingly common subject of litigation, particularly under the civil False Claims Act, as we have detailed in this space.

In keeping with this Buy American focus, GAO was commissioned to report on (A) the extent to which federal agencies procure non-domestic end products through the use of BAA exceptions and waivers, and (B) the ways in which the government’s largest buyers provide training and guidance to implement BAA requirements.  Although GAO found that only a relatively small percentage of goods purchased were foreign end products, GAO also found that this number could have been misstated due to reporting errors and system limitations.  Moreover, GAO found that the level of BAA training varied significantly among the agencies it canvassed.  GAO’s findings, which are discussed in greater detail below, offer a window into the government’s view of its own compliance with the BAA’s complex and often confusing regulatory scheme.Continue Reading GAO Report Shows That Agencies Buy Only A Small Percentage of Non-American Goods, But Buy American Act Implementation Remains A Challenge

Due to the government’s increased focus on domestic preference requirements – for example, through President Trump’s formal policy and action plan for agencies to “scrupulously monitor, enforce, and comply” with the so-called “Buy American Laws,” and Congress’s proposed legislation to make certain Buy American requirements more robust – contractors should not be surprised if there