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POGO Supports Sen. Collins’s Contracting Legislation

Chinese Boots

Master Sgt. Steven Adachi's boots that were made in China.

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Should the U.S. military be encouraged to buy American-made products, especially when it comes to clothing the nation’s service members? According to federal law, including the Buy American Act and the Berry Amendment, it should. Recently, though, the Project On Government Oversight reported on growing concerns that the military is not properly following those laws.

For instance, the Berry Amendment mandates that the government purchase American-made products if the order has a $150,000 minimum. The Buy American Act threshold is much lower—$3,000. Anything falling under those amounts, however, can be bought from overseas manufacturers. There is also a clothing allowance program, which currently allows soldiers to purchase clothing separate from bulk military purchases. The high dollar limit for the Berry Amendment in conjunction with the allowance program could be enabling the government to get around the current law.

Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) has proposed a bill (S. 1197) to help address that issue. The bill would require the Department of Defense (DoD) to comply with current domestic contracting requirements when purchasing athletic footwear for initial entrants to the military. In addition, Senator Collins’s bill would shrink the allowance program. POGO supports Senator Collins’s legislation as a strong first step to enforcing contracting laws.

Some people might argue that buying American shoes might cost more than buying foreign-made shoes. According to one POGO source, the American-made athletic shoes can be purchased for service members at the same cost to taxpayers as shoes that were made overseas. (Airman Steven Adachi also found that the “price for equal American-made boots … was actually five to ten dollars less than the invoice price, $85, of the Chinese-made” that he received.) By reducing the athletic shoe allowance program, however, the military will likely save money by encouraging bulk purchases.

In addition to cost savings, there is a growing market of U.S. footwear manufacturers. One U.S. shoe manufacturer has its foot in the federal contracting door, and is able and willing to provide athletic shoes. Additional vendors might enter or reenter the government market.

But POGO hopes Congress takes action that goes beyond just footwear in the military. POGO is advocating for a DoD Inspector General (IG) audit into the DoD’s compliance with existing domestic preference laws, including the Buy American Act and the Berry Amendment. Last month, the DoD IG announced a preemptive audit of compliance with the Berry Amendment, stating that it anticipated that legislation was forthcoming. But that audit is limited to Berry compliance, and a look into the Buy American Act is needed too. POGO is asking that the DoD IG conduct a review of recent military procurements, including clothing purchases by the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps, to determine, among other things:

(1) If there are violations of the Buy American Act or Berry Amendment;

(2) Whether the monetary thresholds are working in the best interest of the government;

(3) Whether orders are placed below the thresholds to avoid domestic preference laws;

(4) What exemptions or waivers to the domestic preference laws have been granted and if they are properly justified;

(5) If cash allowances are being used to circumvent the procurement process and domestic preference laws;

(6) Whether those allowances are wasting taxpayer funds.

In the aforementioned recent report, POGO detailed the experience of one Air Force airman, who, to his profound dismay, twice received Chinese-made boots from the military. In one of those instances, the Air Force ultimately admitted that its acquisition of Chinese-made boots was in violation of the Buy American Act. His complaints to his superiors and requests for American-made boots were rejected multiple times. Unable to alleviate the situation internally, Master Sgt. Steven Adachi brought the story to the press; shortly afterwards, he was reprimanded, likely for his whistleblowing.

Senator Collins is on the right track and her proposed legislation is a great start. POGO hopes that the Senate will adopt amendments to the Fiscal Year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act that will address footwear in the military and also require a systematic DoD audit to reveal the full extent to which the military is complying with relevant domestic preference contracting laws. After an audit is completed, POGO believes Congress will be able to propose solutions to any widespread contracting problems and take a step toward saving taxpayer dollars.

By: Andrew Wyner
Intern, POGO

andrew-wyner Andrew Wyner is an intern for the Project On Government Oversight.

Topics: Contract Oversight

Related Content: Competition in Federal Contracting, Defense, DOD Oversight, Federal Acquisition, Wasteful Defense Spending

Authors: Andrew Wyner

Submitted by An American girl at: September 11, 2013
All military should always be made in America by Americans what a sick country we have become due to profit driven scum, its a shame the DoD like the olympics are that way. We should lead by example and not buy from slave labor and unsafe work conditions not to mention all the other sick reasons
Submitted by An American girl at: September 11, 2013
Nothing for the DoD should ever be bought abroad, Kudos to the wistleblower, Nothing for the Military should ever be made abroad or profit driven anyway, we can make it all hear for decent pay for employees reasonable benefits if Corporate scum stayed out of it and rediculas top dog retirements, and proper bookkeeping.
Submitted by Anonymous at: September 9, 2013
The senator is right on the money. We don't need to be spending $ on Chinese garbage! I would never buy that crap.Everything the chinese make is either inferior or Toxic.Their products SUCK period.We're supposed to Buy American regardless of a law.Be patriotic,buy American.
Submitted by Hoosier84 at: September 9, 2013
Why wouldn't POGO, of all organizations, not support a free competition including foreign companies? Don't the military and the taxpayer deserve the best product and the best price, no matter its origin? Isn't the Buy American law something an organization interested in an efficient government should be working against? Puzzling, to say the least . . .
Submitted by Anonymous at: September 8, 2013
This shouldn't even be an issue. In my opinion any and all equipment/clothing for our military personnel should be manufactured ond purchased in the U.S.A.
Submitted by at: September 7, 2013
Thank you for sending this to me. I do subscribe to POGO. Marion Rojas
Submitted by Janel at: September 7, 2013
Excuse my mistrust here, but, by any chance does Senator Collins own, or have any interest in any business that would profit from this bill? America doesn't need any more no-bid contracts, especially when it comes to the necessary high quality of products needed for our troops.
Submitted by Meyati at: September 7, 2013
Where's the petition?
Submitted by Beroaldus at: September 7, 2013
I'm a lot more worried about Chinese chicken and radiation from Chinese scrap-metal reuse than I am about Chinese boots! Mass orders of boots should be contingent on price and random-sample testing, like any manufactured object.
Submitted by matinah at: September 7, 2013
good idea to lower that threshhold. if i'm understanding it right. at that level individuals could afford to make individual choices or co-op to make purchases, but the bulk of goods would be purchased from american producers.
Submitted by grannyj at: September 7, 2013
The headline confused me. Buy...Legislation? Is POGO not what I thought it was? I thought this was the big problem, money in politics. On the 3rd reading I "got it". We need legislation to Buy American. Anyone else have difficulty understanding wording?
Submitted by DM at: September 7, 2013
We should take it a step further by having a "hire American" law that applies to Government contracts overseas. At present, defense contractors can form companies overseas & get around the discrimination laws in the that apply to contracting. I'm presently working for a defense contractor overseas that is paying foreign nationals more than they are US expatriates for the same job titles. They are getting away with it by having two separate subcontractor with foreign national working for one sub and US expatriates working for the other - separating us by national origin - a discriminatory act by itself! They have also placed all of us on contracts under the local labor laws, which give no protections against discrimination - again skirting the protections for US citizens.

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