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Sen. Murphy: Pentagon Spends Billions Overseas, Costs Jobs

Pratt and Whitney
Big contractors like Pratt & Whitney should be required to source more of their parts in the US, according to Senator Chris Murphy

U.S. Senator Chris Murphy said that in the past seven years, the Pentagon has spent more than $160 billion of taxpayer money on foreign-made goods. He’s accusing the defense department of abusing legislation that requires it to buy American.

Credit Chion Wolf / WNPR
Senator Chris Murphy

Since 1933, and the passage of the Buy American Act, all federal agencies have been required to buy at least 50 percent of the goods they need from American manufacturers. But they can file a waiver to the act if, for instance, they can’t find something they need in this country.

The trouble is, said Senator Chris Murphy, often they don’t bother to find out. "There was a case where a new military base was being built or renovated, and they put out an RFP for brass doorknobs and door handles," he told WNPR. "We have a company in Connecticut that makes those. A simple Google search would have found them, but they filed a non-availability waiver and bought them overseas." 

The real reason, Murphy said, is usually cost. "They can buy things for five or ten percent cheaper if they get it from China rather than from Torrington, Connecticut," he said. "When we lose those jobs from Connecticut, it costs the government infinitely more than the five or ten percent you save."

But those additional costs in loss of tax revenue or in unemployment benefits don’t go on the Pentagon’s ledger.

Credit Office of Senator Chris Murphy

This is an issue that Murphy has pursued for several years, and now he's quantified the problem. According to research done by his office, last year, the Pentagon issued more than 28,000 waivers to the Buy American law, far more than other government agencies.

Another driving factor, according to Murphy, is defense contractors. "The big defense companies have an interest in more and more waivers being granted," he said, "because they can make a bigger profit if more and more of the parts that go into a plane or a tank or a rifle are made overseas."

Murphy said a stricter enforcement of the Buy American Act, and shutting down certain types of waivers, would provide a huge benefit to small and mid-size manufacturers in Connecticut that are the supply chain for the big defense contractors.

Harriet Jones is Managing Editor for Connecticut Public Radio, overseeing the coverage of daily stories from our busy newsroom.

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